Since 1916, the tradition of jumping into Lake Michigan’s icy water has taken place every Jan. 1 at high noon. For the past three years, Glendale’s Christal Korfhage spent a portion of her New Year’s Day at Bradford Beach to take part in the tradition, called the Polar Bear Plunge.
Korfhage, who moved here 13 years ago from Louisiana, says the plunge helps her to embrace winter. She and a group of friends have welcome the new year with an icy swim for the past three years.
At some point, most polar bear clubbers are asked the simple question, "Why?" It’s not an easy question to answer, but Korfhage, 35, sheds light on the appeal of the plunge.
OnMilwaukee.com: Do you plan to plunge every year?
Christal Korfhage: Yes, this is my third year and I do plan to do it every year.
OMC: Why do you take the plunge every year?
CK: I like to do it because it is refreshing and the fact that I am washing away the old year and plunging for the new year. I like the fact that you can get together people that are all different but somewhat like-minded to celebrate the new year it such a unique way. It is also fun to see what different people wear, some wear costumes and some celebrate with champagne in the water.
OMC: How do you prepare for the plunge?
CK: I usually get down to Bradford beach around 10-ish so I can get a good parking spot. We bring friends and we set up a tent and bring towels, blankets and a bag of extra warm clothes to change into in the tent afterward.
We sometimes even bring a little hot toddy and, this year, we are looking into bringing wood and an outdoor fireplace to warm up with after and before.
OMC: What do you wear during your dip? A swimming suit?
CK: I simply wear capris, a short-sleeved shirt and Keen sandals without socks into the water. Some of my friends wear one-piece or two-piece bathing suits. But I learned to wear socks and shoes down there, and then to change into sandals with covered toes before I go into the water. Frozen toes one year will teach you that!
OMC: Do you believe you must submerge your whole body -- including your head -- to claim to be a member of the Polar Bear Club?
CK: I do firmly believe that you must go under the water for it to be a true plunge.
OMC: Do people tell you you’re crazy for doing this?
CK: Yes, lots of people think I am crazy for doing it but I tell them, "you can't knock it until you try it." It is fun to see all the spectators come out to watch and videotape. Many of them are probably thinking how insane we are, but they are out there in the cold which is a little crazy, too, wouldn't you say?
OMC: How does it feel to be in the lake?
CK: The water is simply a shock to the system once your body touches it. It almost burns it's so cold, but at the same time, it is so refreshing, like cleansing.
OMC: How do you feel post-plunge?
CK: After I do the plunge and I am home for the day, my body is so exhausted and tired. Your body works so hard to stay warm it wipes you out, but it is a good tired to be and when I take a nap and wake up, I feel great!
I am from Louisiana and have been here 13 years and wished I would have heard about it sooner. When I do this, I feel as though I am truly embracing the winter head on. Then in February, when people complain it’s cold, I smile to myself and think, "yeah, but this ain’t nothing!"
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.