Brett Weideman, wearing a banana costume, and his son Bodhi, 7, dressed as a Pikachu, celebrate the New Year by emerging from Auke Bay during the 33rd annual Juneau Polar Bear Dip at the Auke Village Recreation Area on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Brett Weideman, wearing a banana costume, and his son Bodhi, 7, dressed as a Pikachu, celebrate the New Year by emerging from Auke Bay during the 33rd annual Juneau Polar Bear Dip at the Auke Village Recreation Area on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Hundreds wave goodbye to last year, plunge into 2024 during 33rd annual Juneau Polar Bear Dip

Participants embrace cold waters of Auke Bay, prospects for 2024 with equal enthusiasm.

For first-timer Joshua Randazzo it was about doing a cold reboot of his life.

“I’m resetting my system, my whole perception on life,” he said, standing at the shore of Auke Bay in only a bathrobe and sandals just before 1 p.m. on New Year’s Day. “I’m starting a new journey.”

A couple of minutes later Randazzo, 45, joined hundreds of other people splashing into the water at the Auke Village Recreation Area during the 33rd annual Juneau Polar Bear Dip. The annual event celebrating the new year occurred on what passes for a mild January day in Alaska, with partly cloudy skies, temperatures in the high 30s — and no precipitation or notable wind.

Joshua Randazzo savors the moment after emerging from his first Juneau Polar Bear Dip at the Auke Village Recreation Area on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Joshua Randazzo savors the moment after emerging from his first Juneau Polar Bear Dip at the Auke Village Recreation Area on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Randazzo, who moved to Juneau from California in 2022 and is now a fuel truck driver for a helicopter tour company, said “I lost myself somewhere along the way.” He recently started various physical therapeutic treatments, and coming out to the polar dip “just gives you that jump-start, cleanses you, wakes you up, and brings you out and helps you start out fresh.”

While he said he’s happy to leave “an era and aura of bad thoughts” from 2023 behind, there isn’t anything he’s worried about yet going into 2024.

“Not right now,” he said. “I mean, I woke up this morning and was so happy. I saw the snow outside coming down. And I was like ‘this is going to be a great year.’”

Numerous other people taking the polar plunge said they were looking ahead with optimism to 2024 — at odds with some national prognosticators musing about the upcoming U.S. election and/or various global events — with a focus largely on their own lives and those of people close to them.

Some of the hundreds of people lining a beach at the Auke Village Recreation Area begin their dash into the water during the 33rd annual Juneau Polar Bear Dip on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Some of the hundreds of people lining a beach at the Auke Village Recreation Area begin their dash into the water during the 33rd annual Juneau Polar Bear Dip on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

“I’m up for any challenge,” said Michele Hake, taking part in her second local polar dip with her husband, Gregg. “I feel like it can only get better. Everything we’ve gone through together, I don’t think it can get any worse.”

The couple met when he visited her home country of Switzerland years ago, with them selecting Juneau as their home when she moved with him to the U.S. in 2016.

“This polar plunge is such a great symbol” of their struggles and successes, he said. “If you can walk out there and smile and laugh with a bunch of people, it’s not the most pleasant sensation, but if you can meet it with that spirit then you’ve done something well.”

Plenty of polar plunges expressed their spirit with swimwear that was something less than designed for maximum athletic performance. Brett Weideman, a U.S. Coast Guard officer taking part in his fifth dip, was getting ready to put on a banana costume while one of his sons, Bodhi, 7, was participating as a Pikachu.

“Anytime I hear about a fun new experience I like to do it,” the father said, adding he was appreciative this year’s polar dip wasn’t taking place in deep snow like it did two years ago.

Most of the hundreds of people dashing into the water begin returning to shore during the 33rd annual Juneau Polar Bear Dip at the Auke Village Recreation Area on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Most of the hundreds of people dashing into the water begin returning to shore during the 33rd annual Juneau Polar Bear Dip at the Auke Village Recreation Area on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

For his family — including his wife, Hailee and other son Hudson, 10, who were among the many taking pictures and cheering the swimmers from shore — knowing what to be thankful for in 2024 is easy after Brett Weideman was reassigned to Juneau after a year in Kodiak.

“We’ve moved two years in a row, so we’re here for five,” Hailee Weideman said.

While most of the participants came out after a few seconds of splashing about or submerging a few dozen feet from shore, a few study souls lingered — or even went back in for a second, more prolonged swim. Among the latter was Teslyn Harris, whose reasons for being thankful in 2023 and looking ahead to 2024 include starting a new dental job fresh out of high school — and seemingly facing warmer prospects studying for a career in the profession than her experience going back into Auke Bay.

“It was to get back out there and see if it got any better,” she said. “If anything it got worse.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

Heather West (left) and Izzy Ensinger chat while bundled up on a sleeping bag minutes before taking part in the 33rd annual Juneau Polar Bear Dip at the Auke Village Recreation Area on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Heather West (left) and Izzy Ensinger chat while bundled up on a sleeping bag minutes before taking part in the 33rd annual Juneau Polar Bear Dip at the Auke Village Recreation Area on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

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