Author Archives: Zachary Northrop

Polar Plunge

Informant: In a certain way, it almost feels universal, the term “polar plunge”. Or like when you say “polar plunge”, people know what that means. And it’s basically just going swimming in water when the water’s extremely cold or it’s extremely cold outside. Basically, going swimming when you shouldn’t, when it’s colder than you should swim in. As kids in Southern California, our polar plunge would be going from the jacuzzi to the non-heated pool, which it wasn’t like it was frozen over, it was just probably 50 degrees or something. So that was like our version of it. Alternatively when we were up in the mountains we had the “polar bear challenge”, and that was where we would lay down on the snow and roll around in our swim trunks and then get back in the jacuzzi. And I’ve been doing it recently with friends basically to celebrate the life of a loved one who we lost who really enjoyed that and did that a lot and her philosophy and kind of all of ours is that it’s this really special feeling that it’s incredibly painful, but you kinda never feel so alive because you can really feel everything in that you can’t feel anything. Like your body is so numb and it’s so special to have whatever thoughts or stresses or whatever that were in your head leading up to this moment, you don’t give a shit about because your body and your brain want one thing and that’s to not be this cold. So it’s really this incredibly fresh reset button where you never feel like you want to do and it you never ready to do it cause you always feel like it’s a bad idea but as soon as you’ve done it, while you do it it hurts, as soon as you’ve done it, you never regret it. You’ll be cold, you’ll be in pain, it’ll suck, but you’ll just feel so much, I guess, brighter, or decluttered, I guess.

Background: The informant, as he mentioned, grew up in Southern California in a family that frequently participated in the polar plunge. The activity has a great deal of meaning to the informant because of its connection to a loved one who was recently lost. 

Context: The polar plunge could be performed in many different scenarios, and the informant gives a few examples in his description. It often came about spontaneously, such as in the case of jumping in the unheated pool from the jacuzzi when spending a night with friends. Other times it is part of a more consistent tradition, like how the informant’s family performs a polar plunge in the pacific ocean during sunset on New Year’s Day every year. 

Thoughts: As the informant explains, being immersed in cold water often has an extremely grounding effect on a person. It commands your focus, temporarily cleansing your thoughts and forcing you to focus on your body and your physical sensations. In a world that makes it incredibly easy to get swept up in patterns of thought, this “reset button” can be a welcome return to the body. Additionally, it is often performed in nature in bodies of water such as lakes and oceans, which gives the performer an additional connection to the natural world. Finally, the informant explains the additional meaning that the polar plunge took on for him and his community after losing a loved one. The continuation of a tradition like this allows for members of this community to remain connected to the memory of their friend, and the special physical nature of the tradition that the informant describes can help to maintain this connection.

Swim Lessons Tea Party

Informant: We were trying to get kids to go under the water. We were trying to get kids to learn how to hold their breath, open their eyes, and the way to distract them from the fact that they’re going under the water, holding their breath, and opening their eyes, was to say, “We’re going to have a tea party sitting on the bottom of the pool.” The idea for a young kid to sit on the bottom of the pool, that’s intriguing, nobody necessarily has a problem with that, so when you tell them, “We’re going to sit on the bottom of the pool and have a tea party but you have to tell me what you’re eating and what you’re drinking,” they’re thinking about about what they’re eating and what they’re drinking, they’re not thinking about the fact that, ‘I have to hold my breath, open my eyes, and go under water which is fuckin’ freaky.” And so we had tea parties.

Background: The informant has been teaching swim lessons in the summer with family for many years now. The tradition of teaching local children how to swim goes back multiple generations starting with the informant’s grandmother and continuing with her children. This game has been played for many years when teaching the children. 

Context: The game was played with children mostly in the 4-6 year old age range. They were in the stages of learning to swim where they are gaining mobility in the water but are still battling discomfort and fear about going underwater. The game would be played in small groups, and the children would go around the circle telling the instructor what they were going to eat and drink. Then, all at the same time, the children would jump up and then allow themselves to fall down to sit on the bottom of the pool (in the shallow end). While on the bottom, they would mimic eating and drinking at a tea party and open their eyes to look at one another. 

Thoughts: As the informant explains, having a “tea party” with the children on the bottom of the pool is a very effective way to distract them from the aspects of the water that they are afraid of and allow them to practice essential skills to swimming. The idea of a tea party is a very common one when talking to and interacting with children, and this familiarity helps them to engage with it easily and readily.