Swimming in January? | TheUnion.com

Swimming in January?

Eileen JoyceThirteen-year-old Nick Coykendal (left), Bonnie McNiel, 18, (right) and Jimbob Heiberger (background) climb out of Scotts Flat Lake Wednesday after taking a dip with friends and neighbors in Cascade Shores.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

This time of year, Scotts Flat Lake is an empty, foreboding body of water so still and cold that nobody is there to see fog roll off the shore or snow melt from the boat dock.

That is, until New Year’s Day, when a loosely knit band of daredevils who live on the Cascade Shores side of the lake forget their sanity, strip to their swimsuits and plunge headfirst into waters colder than the beer inside the nearby general store.

“You’ve really got to psych yourself out,” said Bill Coykendall as he shivered, shirtless, in the snow near the boat dock before the annual dive. “If I didn’t feel ready, I never would have done this.”

The scene at the boat dock resembled a cross between beach party and the Donner Party, as residents lined beach towels, lounge chairs and propane-powered heaters on the dock, while men and women shivered half-naked as the icy, 41-degree water lapped at their sandal-clad feet.

Steve Zyskowski began the day’s craziness by driving his red 1967 Amphicar – think sea-worthy, topless Chevy Corvair with twin propellers at the rear – from the top of the boat dock directly into the lake, where he and passenger Robert Hearn trolled the lake, grinning at a few hardy souls in canoes nearby. Only about 80 such cars exist in the United States today, said Zyskowski, a Cascade Shores resident since 1979. “You just drive it in the water and drive away,” he said. “It’s just totally hilarious.”

Zyskowski has given many residents rides in the past few years.

“They’re all crazy, eccentric SOBs,” Zyskowski said of his friends, “but it’s a lot better than being around dull, boring people.”

A few years ago, Gary Kilday gave his doubting boss a ride in the car after telling the story of the strange vehicle. “I ended up getting a 50-cent raise and an Employee of the Month T-shirt after that,” he joked.

Wednesday marked the third year of the Scotts Flat plunge.

Asked if she was scared, 4-year-old Bailey Kennedy shrieked: “No! We’re not going in the deep part!”

Once 2 p.m. hit, the group stampeded into the lake. Screams and gasps filled the air in an instant. Steam blew from the swimmers’ mouths.

“Oh, my God, I’m freezing,” stammered Greg Clark, who plunged for the second time this year and sprinted to the top of the dock after diving.

“I always feel better coming out than going in,” said three-year plunge veteran Rory Bostard. “But my heart’s beating twice as fast as it did this morning.” Water fell in ice droplets as he spoke.

Women and girls donned terry cloth robes and towels after stepping out of the lake. What once was a chilly day became almost balmy minutes after everyone came out of the lake, as the sun peeked through the clouds.

“That was your initiation to the ‘hood,” said plunge event point man Andy Morateur.

About 18 participants then gathered for a group photo, cheering and raising their drinks in triumph. There were about 60 people gathered at the lake, overall, for the New Year’s Day tradition.

Bonnie McNeil said she’d be back next year for her fourth dive.

“It’s exhilarating,” she said. “I guess I’m a masochist, because this is the kind of fun I like.”

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