COEUR d'ALENE - With the outdoor temperature hovering at 34 degrees, hundreds of people once again kicked off the new year by participating in the Polar Bear Plunge in Coeur d'Alene.
When the clock struck noon Wednesday, there were screams and shrieks as the plungers raced across Sanders Beach to jump, or dive, into the chilly winter waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene.
For most, it was a quick dip. Others lingered a bit.
"It's a cold-water baptism for the new year," said Chad Bennett, of Hayden.
This marked Bennett's 19th New Year's Day plunge.
The first-day-of-the-year swim has been taking place in Coeur d'Alene since the late '70s.
For the past decade, Bennett has been the event's unofficial timekeeper, using a bullhorn to count down the minutes until the crowd stampedes into, and then out of, the water.
"I'm always here," he said. "My son, Caden, he's done it since he was in the womb."
Caden, 14, participated in the plunge for the eighth time this year. He said he remembers thinking, as a 7-year-old, that it was "so cold." It still feels that way, he said with a smile.
Chad Bennett's brother, Justin, is another annual plunger.
"It gets bigger and bigger each year," Justin said, looking around at the crowd.
The beach was packed with about 1,000 people Wednesday. About a third actually jumped into the water.
The event has turned into a regional one, with many participants coming from Washington.
"It was fantastic," said Chad Salsbury, a grinning, first-time plunger from Spokane. "It was exhilarating."
Minutes before the plunge, Jack Martin, of Coeur d'Alene, stood in swim trunks at the water's edge. He turned to his buddy beside him and asked, "Are you prepared for the worst thing you'll ever do?"
That kind of thinking hasn't kept Martin away. This year marked his sixth polar plunge.
"I figure if you start the year off doing something this dumb, the rest of the year has got to be good," he said, laughing.
A brave Polar Bear plunger floats in Lake Coeur d’Alene before the start of the 2014 plunge New Years day.
The first wave of Polar Bear plungers rushes Sanders Beach into Lake Coeur d’Alene Wednesday morning.