Polar Plunge to offer icy entertainment
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
File photo by Matt Heinrichs
It started with hot tubs, and now it's not only a staple spectacle during the University of Okoboji Winter Games, but it's also a major fundraiser for the Arnolds Park/Okoboji Fire and Rescue dive team.
The event usually attracts a few hundred people looking for their chance to jump into the frigid waters of West Lake Okoboji. The AP/O crews provide a watchful eye as the public takes the plunge, going so far as to have a member of their crew ready and waiting in the water — wearing a special suit, of course — should they be needed.
Prospective plungers can sign up for the event beginning at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30 ahead of its 3 p.m. start time for a cost of $20 at the ticket booth for the Queen II. Participants under the age of 18 will need a parent's signature before they can support the cause with an icy splash.
Self-proclaimed Lakes Area cheerleader Matt Richter said a man named Bill Eich was the force behind the inaugural Polar Plunge — though the exact year wasn't clear. Eich had been involved in Winter Games since its inception, according to his 2015 obituary, and had hosted an event called Spas on Ice for 11 years before passing in October that year. Richter explained Eich's business — Eich Construction — somehow allowed him access to hot tubs, and participants were able to sit in the spas before jumping in the icy water — and no doubt promptly returning.
"He just thought it was fun," Richter said of Eich's take on the Polar Plunge. "Then, as a matter of safety, he got in touch with the Arnolds Park/Okoboji Underwater Search and Rescue. For someone who wants to experience the Polar Plunge, they can experience it, and at the same time it's a fundraiser for our underwater search and rescue."
AP/O crews typically cut away a section of the ice near Arnolds Park Amusement Park ahead of Winter Games. AP/O Chief Chris Yungbluth said the team has specific dimensions for the hole, and they make sure the ice is thick enough to support the event — crowds of onlookers usually add enough weight to push a substantial puddle's worth of water through the opening ahead of the first jumper. Yungbluth said most of the proceeds from the Polar Plunge are put toward the very same type of equipment crews use during the event.