The release of 2 million to 4 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Dominguez Channel has forced the closures of some beaches on Friday, Dec. 31, in Los Angeles County.
The leak has forced the cancelation of the 70th annual Polar Bear swim at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, sending organizers scrambling to spread the word.
The swim was canceled last year due to COVID-19.
This is breaking news; watch for updates
Below is the original story about the event.
The Polar Bear swim at San Pedro’s Cabrillo Beach is one of the port town’s oldest and most popular traditions.
And it’s back again this year, splashing off at midday Saturday, Jan. 1, following its cancelation in 2021 because of the pandemic.
The New Year’s Day ritual, going back 70 years, draws hundreds of folks to the recreational shoreline at the Port of Los Angeles for a brisk, splashing sprint through the waves.
The idea: to encourage people to start the new year off with some healthy exercise, camaraderie and some time outdoors in nature.
The annual gatherings typically top out at 800 swimmers and includes friends and neighbors, parents with kids, and younger and older folks alike, who kept in shape swimming all year round off San Pedro’s shoreline.
Many wouldn’t think of missing it.
Then came the pandemic.
For the first time in its generations-long history, the 69th swim was canceled for Jan. 1, 2021. Some folks gathered informally anyway, one of the organizers said, and a virtual swim was posted on Facebook.
But it was a far cry from the huge, boisterous mash-up of bodies charging into the breaking waves that has unfolded in previous years.
The 70th annual Polar Bear Swim is set to begin with the crowning of the king and queen at 11:30 a.m. — with folks laughing and screaming at noon as they take the plunge.
No rain is forecast. It’s supposed to be sunny. But it will be cold, by LA standards, with an expected daytime high of about 59 degrees.
This year’s presiding king and queen, elected by the Polar Bears members, are Steve Herbert, an audio technician and daily ocean swimmer, and Kathleen Seixas-Greene, a schoolteacher and mom.
There are some accommodations that were made because of the pandemic, with the most-recent omicron variant, is now surging: Participants are being asked to wear face masks when they are not in the water; the traditional hot cocoa and cupcakes won’t be served; and everyone will be asked to keep 6 feet apart from other households to allow some social distancing.
Other Polar Bear swims elsewhere are being even more cautious.
The 102nd Polar Bear Swim for Vancouver, Washington, will, for the second year in a row, be a virtual event as participants are urged to plunge into chilled bathtubs or kiddie pools at home.
But what is believed to be the oldest organized plunge, going back to 1903, But New York’s Coney Island Polar Bear Club will bring back what is believed to be the oldest organized plunge — going back to 1903 — after a one-year hiatus.
The annual dips in San Pedro was started informally sometime in the 1940s. The late John Olguin was among those who launched the idea, along with fellow Los Angeles County lifeguard Jack Cheaney.
Later, they formed the Cabrillo Beach Polar Bears and the first official Polar Bear Swim took place on Jan. 1, 1953.
Participants converge on the beach to make the dash into the water, with about 100 going out farther to swim.
Nancy Utovac, 63, who was one of the early women to work on the docks, said she won’t be surprised if this year’s swim draws a large and grateful crowd. She served as the event’s queen in 2000 and regularly swims in the ocean. Just this week she and some fellow swimmers were joined by about six dolphins outside the breakwater.
“It’s a friendly tradition,” she said, “and people show up you haven’t seen in so long. For so many it’s just what they do on New Year’s Day. They bring the kids and the grandparents, they get their (participation) certificate and coco afterward.”
The last time the swim was held — on Jan. 1, 2020 — it was weeks before COVID-19 was confirmed on U.S. shores.
Seemingly without a care on the horizon, the throngs gathered, as they always did, to greet 2020. Returning to the sand after the plunge in 50-something degree waters, they sipped the traditional hot cocoa, planning on doing it again the following year.
It was 64 degrees, a fairly typical New Year’s Day on the Southern California coastline.
And no one could have guessed how 2020 was about to change just about everything.