San Francisco Green Film Festival #5 – this week!

With Opening Night just two days away on May 28th and then continuing 2015_SFGFF_Poster_-_WEB_smallthrough June 3rd, the 5th annual San Francisco Green Film Festival promises to be the best and best attended in its short history.  And, as its attractive, informative, and highly functional website suggests, this Festival also appears destined to be the most polished and influential yet.

The Festival is the brainchild of Rachel Caplan, who I am fortunate to have collaborated with on the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival.  As Festival Director in 2008 and 2009, Rachel was excellent as both an executor and strategic thinker, and a pleasure to work with as well.   As she’s conveyed, Rachel was often approached by independent filmmakers striving to get their environmentally themed documentaries screened.  She realized that, from agriculture to rainforests, from mining to monkeys, there was a diverse mix of environmental stories all seeking to reach audiences in San Francisco.

The entrepreneur she is, Rachel spotted an opportunity to use the power and immediacy of these films, coupled with the local environmental expertise and enthusiasm, to inspire concern and, she anticipates, social change.  She planned and then in 2011 launched the first San Francisco Green Film Festival with new films from around the world and an emphasis on audience discussion and participation.

Astute film programming coupled with an emphasis on audience participation is a formula patterned on the very successful and admirable Environmental Film Festival, an annual two-week long, multi-venue production in Washington D.C..  Its 24th festival will take place next March and will, once again, feature numerous programs, many free of charge.

Gaining more traction with each festival, the SF Green Film Festival has quickly risen to the forefront in the environment-centric segment of the film festival market.  The Festival’s 2014 Annual Report presents in a visually attractive way the myriad of dimensions to a film festival and conveys how far SF Green has come after just 4 festivals.  That report’s metrics are impressive and they suggest SF Green’s performance has already surpassed that of several older festivals in its peer group.

Details on this year’s festival are here and this year’s program can be downloaded from this link.

My hat is off to Rachel for conceiving the Festival, bootstrapping it, and assembling and organizing the team and resources to implement her vision.

Over the next week the SF Green Film Festival will screen 60 films from 26 countries in 25+ programs.  If you’ll be in or near San Francisco during the Festival, I recommend you consider making time for it.

Posted in Books & Films, Entrepreneurs & Entrepreneurism, Non-profits, San Francisco | Leave a comment

Polar Bear Challenge, continued

The Dolphin Club Swim Commissioners recently posted the results sheet for the 2014-2015 Polar Bear Challenge.  It’s at

Also, as promised in a previous entry, I’m providing a link to the most recent issue of the Dolphin Log here.  Beginning on page 16, it has a thoughtful article on the Polar Bear Challenge with attention to the mental effect of the mileage chart and its squares.  Following that article is one on this past February’s 24 hour relay, a fun and somewhat tortuous event.  Enjoy!

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Polar Bear Hall of Fame corrected with inclusion of Laura Merkl

This short entry is to note that the recent post on my personal Dolphin Club Polar Bear Hall of Fame has been revised – the major change in the corrected version is the inclusion  of Laura Merkl in the Hall of Fame.  My apologies to Laura for publishing the original entry while omitting her, which I attribute to insufficient research on my part.

My thanks go to Mary Cantini, a fellow Dolphin Club Life Member and Escape from Alcatraz Legend, for her tip on Laura’s accomplishments.  Thank you Mary!



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My Polar Bear Hall of Fame

(An earlier blog entry on the Dolphin Club‘s Polar Bear provides some background on the event and may be accessed here.  Also, this post is subject to revision as outlined in the P.S. near the end of the post.)

Asked of mountain climber George Mallory in 1923: “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?”
His answer: “Because it’s there.”

Over it’s 42 year history, the Dolphin Club’s Polar Bear (“PB”)has attracted a set of people with a range of swimming skills, ages, body types, etc.  Some, perhaps many, of the participants demonstrate a need to climb their own metaphorical mountain, evidently “Because it’s there.”  In a low-keyed way, in this blog, I’d like to give some visibility to PB participants whose exceptional performances are especially noteworthy by naming my personal Polar Bear Hall of Fame.

Bill Powning's locker, attesting to his robust participation in the swim program, is now assigned to his son.

Bill Powning’s locker, attesting to his robust participation in the swim program, is now assigned to his son.

Bill Powning –  In 1974, a founder of the Polar Bear.

A graduate of Yale, sharp dresser, and gentleman, Bill earned a Polar Bear in 23 straight winters, a record at the time, until he reached his late 70’s and “retired” from the challenges of the tradition he started.  His son, a Dolphin Club Life Member, is carrying the family flag and is a multi-year Polar Bear.




George Kebbe – A native of Syria, this now legendary PB arrived in San Francisco in 1972 and soon took up swimming in Aquatic Park.  At the age of 41, in the 1993-1994 PB season, Kebbe swam 255 PB miles, a record.  Nine years later his record was topped by Suzie Dods (See below).  So, the following season Kebbe took on the challenge and topped Suzie’s record by 100 miles to set the PB record at 356 miles, truly uncharted territory.   His unique asymmetrical windmill-style stroke is known as “The Kebbe” and, during that record breaking PB, was often visible along the buoy line in Aquatic Park.  (A down and back on the buoy line is the gold standard for mileage in Aquatic Park.)   Lou Marcelli, the Club’s longtime Commodore who was not known for hyperbole, called Kebbe’s completion of the 356 PB miles “one of the greatest feats of all time.”

George K. is one of the few Dolphin Club members to have an Aquatic Park marker named after him – formerly known as the can off the starboard quarter of the Balclutha, it’s now the Kebbe.

For more on Kebbe and his PB, go to

Ralph Wenzel – Born in East Germany, low-keyed and modest Wenzel owns and manages the renowned San Francisco bakery, Schubert’s.  In the 2006-2007 PB season, Ralph swam every day but one to achieve his goal of 356 miles, to tie but not exceed George Kebbe’s record!  According to famed San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carl Nolte in a laudatory article, on the last day of PB, “With a chance to break the record and set a new mark, he stood up and walked out of the water. It was clear he could have gone back in the bay, taken another lap around the Aquatic Park lagoon and torn up the record book.

“I don’t feel like going back in again,” he said. Asked why he didn’t break the record, he shrugged and walked away to take a sauna.

In times when records are made to be broken and winners are hailed as superheroes, Wenzel seems to be a throwback to some other age. “

Pete Perez – By day he was a programmer at the Walt Disney Museum.  But in the 2012-2013 PB he could be found in Aquatic Park every day at 5:15 AM and again at 6:30 PM, striving toward his goal of tying the PB mileage record of 356 miles– tying, not breaking the record, out of respect for the cold-water pioneer, George Kebbe, and Ralph Wenzel, who also chose to tie.  During Perez’s quest, he figured that if he too were to tie the record Kebbe set, a tradition would  be forming and, according to, “if there is one thing the Dolphin Club honors, it is tradition.”  Perez developed an insider’s knowledge of Aquatic Park’s tides, currents, and micro-currents and used them to his advantage, fully within the PB’s guidelines.  Perez even coined a name for a 356 mile Polar Bear, “a George.”

Perez’s “George” came a year or two after he set the record for a new PB tradition begun a few years ago, the “First to Forty.” (Forty miles is the minimum for a standard PB, and Perez’s record of 48 or so hours stood for only a year or two.)

Suzie Dods –In the 2002-2003 Polar Bear, Suzie set the PB mileage record at 256 miles, topping PB Hall of Famer George Kebbe’s 1995 record by 1 mile.  That makes her the only woman to hold the Polar Bear single season mileage record.  Evidently her record put a challenge in front of and accepted by Kebbe – Dod’s record lasted just a year until the next season when Kebbe did what has become known as “a George,” 356 miles.  In addition to her PB exploits, Suzie has completed many challenging open water swims, operates a teaching/coaching business, and each November offers a free “Learn to swim in SF Bay” class at the Dolphin Club.

Joe Illick – Professor of History Emeritus at San Francisco State University and all-around renaissance man, Joe Illick joined the Dolphin Club in 1995 when he was 60.  Soon thereafter he was dominating the Polar Bear, achieving the most mileage of any participant for 5 or 6 seasons (to be researched further!).

Joe Illick, near one of his haunts, the PB mileage charts.

Joe Illick, near one of his haunts, the PB mileage charts.

A strong advocate of double-dipping (swim-sauna-swim), Joe’s swim speed may be slower than his undergraduate days on the swim team at Princeton, but he makes up for it with commitment and time in the water.  An author of several books, an artist, poet, and Club leader, Joe also invented the Joe Illick Award – it goes to the PB participant who has the highest “Illick score.” Illick score = (Age of participant – 40) x (PB miles of participant -40).  Besides Joe, only Pete Perez (in his record setting year) has won the Illick Award.

Wall near Joe Illick's locker has become a gallery of Joe's art creations.

Wall near Joe Illick’s locker has become a gallery of Joe’s art creations.

Laura Merkl –Laura is true Hall of Famer.  She is believed to be the first woman to win Polar Bear, which she did in 1993-1994 with 174 miles.  She won a second time in 1999-2000 when she tied for first with Scott Haskins at 150 miles.  Other metrics easily convey Laura’s affinity with the PB: first, she’s completed 29 PB’s, putting her high, possibly 2nd only to Vince Huang, on the list of PB’s done; second, she’s probably swum more Polar Bear miles than anyone, with 2865.75 career miles to date (according to her records, which the author certainly doesn’t question, Laura being a career corporate financial executive!)*. Averaging almost 100/miles/season over 29 seasons, and future PBs in front of her, Laura’s career mileage mark will be very hard to top.

*official Club records are lacking, but Laura conveyed she welcomes an audit! :-)

Vince Huang – Vince, a well informed student of water temperatures in SF Bay, has earned Hall of Fame status because of his multi-year participation and Club record of 37 straight PB’s.   Plus, he’s still going strong and will certainly lengthen his streak of consecutive PBs.  Whenever it ends, it will be a monument of consistency and persistence, a string of consecutive PB’s that will be very hard to surpass.

In summary, as the reader may perceive, the Polar Bear is quite a tradition, a 3-month event and challenge that can capture the mindshare of participants like none other.  In a future post I’ll report on the 2014-2015 PB.

Finally, the most recent issue of the Dolphin Log contains two articles on the Polar Bear, more evidence of its importance!  When the Log is posted online, I’ll provide links.

P.S. Dear Reader, while I’ve strived for accuracy of course, this post may contain factual errors and/or omissions.  If/when such information comes to light, I’ll make appropriate corrections and/or additions in this post and, if they’re major changes, I’ll note them in a future post.  So, if you see what appears to be an error or omission, please bring it to my attention, thank you.

Revised: May 14, 2015

Club's entry with a member diligently recording her PB miles.  Note the large wood carving of a dolphin.

Club’s entry with a member diligently recording her PB miles. Note the large wood carving of a dolphin.

Posted in Dolphin Club, Outdoors, People of note | 1 Comment

Selections from San Francisco Int’l Ocean Film Festival #12

In an earlier post I offered my impressions on the 12th annual San Francisco Int’l Ocean Film Festival, which took place last month.

The 12th festival, like those before it, screened over 40 films, each with a direct connection to the ocean.  And, as was the case with prior festivals, a good number of the films are truly meritorious but lack the distribution they deserve (at least in this writer’s opinion!)…a business opportunity?

In any event, below, in alphabetical order, I’ve outlined a subset of the 12th Festival’s 41 films that I found particularly appealing.   The format is film name, filmmaker, length in minutes, country of origin, my comment:

Into the Mind of Greg Long, Patrick Trefz, 5, US.  Nicely filmed, well-edited, interesting script.  A not so subtle branding/pitch piece on the mind’s owner.  Sponsored by Cliffbar.

June Gloom, Adam Warmington, 4, US.  Random but appealing clips of coastal pleasures held together by the narrator’s selections from Jack Kerouac’s poem, The Sea.  Sponsored by Reef.

Whale shark as a beautiful creature.

Whale shark as a beautiful creature.

La Nuit Des Geants, Rene Heuzey & Daniel Jouannet, 6, Fr.  Wonderful art piece which leans lightly on deceased filmmaker, Jean Panleve.  Featuring whale sharks, they’re shown to be beautiful moving sculptures. Lighting, music, filmography combine for an outstanding short.

Learning to Float, Brendan Calder, 20, US.  Heartwarming story of how a teenager from South LA hooked up with a senior surfer and developed a life-long

It's really about learning to surf as a way out...

It’s really about learning to surf as a way out…

relationship.  The teenager learns to surf, improves his lot in life remarkably, and inspires creation of a non-profit to repeat it with others.



Lost Gear, Ken Fisher, 8, US.  There are stories right in one’s own backyard – this film is a lively report on how fishermen in Eureka are working hard to retrieve lost crabbing gear.

Realm of the Oceans, Marc Jampolsky, 52, Can.  One of the best, most informative science-based films in the ocean film genre.  Innovative graphics along with smart talking heads convey how everything is connected and more.  Don’t miss this one!

Six Months at Sea in the Merchant Marine, Martin Machado, 22, US.  A fairly typical civilian goes to sea with his camera and intelligence and creates a very watchable first film that conveys life in the merchant marine.

Sweet Sea Breeze, Thomas Hessmann, 20, Gr.  For this festival, a rare screening of a fiction film.  A salty, crusty and elderly mariner is matched up with a young caretaker who starts out feisty but crosses over.

Tales of the Sand, Elodie Turpin, 20.  Spain.  Excellent script, filmography, and music all contribute to this stimulating film on the bottom of the near sea.

The Big Pick, Byrony Stokes, 6, UK.  Creative treatment of a volunteer team’s day at the beach picking up and inventorying the plastic they find.  Visuals allow it to persuade without preaching.

A small beach's yield from one day of picking.

A small beach’s yield from one day of picking.

The Last Ocean, Peter Young, 50, New Zealand.  Eye opening, moderately blistering info-editorial on the Ross Sea and the Patagonia toothfish aka Chilean seabass.  In the spotlight are the complicated politics along with the business practices of the once-respected fisheries judge, Marine Stewardship Council.

The Odd Couple, Omar Badr, 5, UK.  In the spirit of Jean Panleve, Omar Badr reports on the codependency of the Goby fish and Pistol shrimp.  In this first effort, he did it all:  precise filming & editing, a lively script, and wonderfully droll narration.  A favorite.

Goby fish guarding the homestead.

Goby fish guarding the homestead.








Thule Tuvalu, Matthias Von Gunten, 96, Swiss.  From Hollywood’s periodical, Variety: “A handsomely lensed, fascinating portrait of two communities on opposite sides of the planet undergoing irrevocable changes thanks to global warming.” The filmmaker lets the natives show and tell how, just as Bob Dylan sang, “…the times they are a-changin'”.

Beautifully filmed portraits  of two cultures under siege by changing weather.

Beautifully filmed portraits of two cultures under siege by changing weather.

Tierra de Patagone, Julian & Joaquin Azulay, 76, Argentina.  Genre: Guys travel, surf, and film it.  It’s a 6 month trip by the Gauchos del Mar brothers across Patagonia.  Linear story line made interesting by protagonists’ spirit, folks and new friends met along the way, patagonic culture, unique animals and the final leg to Staten Island in search of untouched waves…

Many other films in the Festival are also of merit, and their omission from the above list isn’t to be interpreted as a slight or criticism. The Festival program may be downloaded here.

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3 Ocean-related Executive Director job openings

Over the last few weeks, largely through happenstance, I’ve become aware of 3 searches for executive directors (EDs) by well established, California-based, ocean/marine-related non-profits.  Normal turnover at the ED level of non-profits is low, so for there to be searches underway for 3 such positions in the small niche of California marine non-profits strikes me as really unusual. I thought this coincidence worth noting in this blog so it’s there for everyone to see.

Also, since one of my business interests is the employment marketplace, specifically job boards, I was curious to learn more about the role of job boards in the recruitment process for each position and, more generally, how the non-profits were going about their public efforts to generate candidates.

First I did a Google search for “executive director jobs” which resulted in several high ranking, unsponsored links for the popular job aggregator,  At Indeed I searched on “executive director” several different ways but got generally poor results – just a few non-profit ED positions surfaced and they were mixed in with a large number of for-profit and staff jobs that had one or both of the key words, depending on my filter. No matter how broadly or narrowly I searched, I couldn’t get any of the 3 positions to turn up in the first few pages of results.  I didn’t feel I was on the right track and my opinion of Indeed did indeed sink!

I then tried, an aggregator generally perceived to be slightly behind Indeed in use.  However, I found SimplyHired searches provided cleaner, better results.  Nonetheless, the results were empty until I searched very narrowly with terms and locations very closely associated with the targeted jobs.

At Simply Hired I eventually found these listings:

Executive Director
San Francisco Baykeeper – Oakland, CA
Baykeeper uses advocacy, , San Francisco Baykeeper is seeking a visionary and … strategic and operational responsibility for Baykeeper’s personnel, programs and…
30+ days ago from

Chief Executive Officer
San Francisco Maritime National Park Association – San Francisco, CA
the members of the Association and other maritime-related organizations Excellent … Association s Board of Trustees, the Chief Executive Officer provides overall leadership…
29 days ago from Doostang

As noted earlier, SimplyHired is an aggregator which scrapes content from other job boards, which include and Doostang.  (The Baykeeper position, in slightly different words, eventually surfaced at Indeed as well, having been scraped from

In brief, Baykeeper is 26 years old, has revenues of approx. $1 million/year, monitors San Francisco Bay, and takes action if appropriate. The San Francisco Maritime National Park Association was founded in 1950 and has revenues of approx. $2 million/year. It is a supporting organization to the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and provides youth and adult programming.  Since Baykeeper and the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association are likely to be known to readers of this blog, I won’t go into further detail on their activities which are of course explained on their websites.  

To go to the Baykeeper ED job description on its website, click here.

To go to to the SF Maritime National Park Association CEO position description on its website, click here.

The third ED job opening is quite fresh.  It is for the ED role at the Ocean Institute, which is on the water in the southern Orange County community of Dana Point (whose tagline is “Harboring the Good Life.)”    Evidently the opening hasn’t yet been posted on any job board or even, as of the date of this post, to the Ocean Institute website. I noticed the news in an article a few days ago in the local paper.

For those not familiar with it, the Ocean Institute is a significant non-profit with revenues of approximately $8 million/year.  It offers hands-on marine science, environmental and ocean education and maritime history programs. More than 115,000 K-12 students and 8,000 teachers annually participate in the Institute’s award-winning, immersion style programs. To learn about ocean facts, sea creatures, oceanography, science, and California history, students voyage onto the ocean, study in labs and live aboard tall ships or in the chaparral, where they can feel and taste the salty sea spray, sort through live specimens, observe migrating whales on our Dana Point whale watch cruises, collect scientific data and investigate the culture and world around them. On weekends, OI opens its doors to the public for a peek into how ocean science, history, and literature are used to inspire life-long learners.

I started this process to get a sense of the recruiting efforts for 3 visible but niche jobs, as seen by someone in the general public using standard tools.  Although the sample size is probably too small from which to draw definite conclusion from, I was surprised at how much work it was to find job postings for positions I knew were open.  This suggests the job market, even for “good” jobs, remains a bit haphazard and perhaps inefficient.

I do plan to continue this project and see what shows up on social media sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.  Also, because recruiting efforts can and should include other channels, such as the entity’s newsletter, staff, and board of directors members, perhaps I’ll contact the non-profits to learn more of their (non-public) efforts to source good candidates.  Such contact may also reveal the use of one or more recruiting firms.

At this point, I can offer just a few practical tips on the use of job boards:

For job seekers: First, try different search approaches: narrow & wide & use different but relevant keywords.   Second, try different job boards, especially those oriented toward your industry, profession, or location.

For hiring companies: Post often.  Otherwise, since search results are stratified at least partly by date, as time goes on you’ll get buried.

If you care to make any comments on this blog post, please do so below.

Finally, if you’d like to be notified of future posts by email, sign up through the Follow button in the lower right hand corner.

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Polar Bears at the Dolphin Club

Yesterday was a red-letter day at the Dolphin Swimming and Boating Club.  At midnight the window closed for completing this season’s Polar Bear Challenge, aka the “Polar Bear.” (sometimes shortened to “PB.”)  Since the PB captures major mind share of many Club members including the writer’s, and also might be interesting to others, I thought it worthy of a couple of blog entries.

Polar Bear FAQs:

What is the Polar Bear Challenge?
It is an annual Dolphin Club tradition (since 1974) during which a member may strive to swim, over the 91 or 92 day period from December 21 through March 21 of the following year, 40 miles in San Francisco Bay.

Around the Dolphin Club, what is a “Polar Bear?”
Reaching 40 miles during the season. i.e. “I got my Polar Bear.” Or “I’ve done 24 straight Polar Bears.” (as the author has, as of Feb. 22nd).  A Polar Bear may also refer to a person.

Who keeps track of miles and how?
The 40 mile goal is tracked by each member marking squares, 4 to a mile, on a chart posted near the Club’s front door.   The honor system is in effect with each member responsible for posting his or her mileage.

One of 9 charts turning into art.

One of the 9 mileage charts that become art during the course of a PB.

Why is called a “Challenge?”
In a normal winter most humans find the San Francisco Bay water temperature to be cold*.  In the Polar Bear Challenge, for miles to count toward the 40 mile goal, they need to be done without a wetsuit or swim aids.  The cold water makes the mileage required a challenge.

*Typically, the water temperature is in the low 50’s F in late December, drops into the high 40’s for January and returns to the low 50s in February and then rises to the low to mid 50’s at March 21.

How many members do the PB?
In a typical year, hundreds of the Club’s 1400 members put their name on the mileage chart, some just for fun.  Usually 100-150 members complete the Polar Bear.

What apparatus is allowed?
Swim cap, neoprene cap, goggles, and ear plugs are all allowed.   Pretty much everyone finds the cold water more tolerable and enjoyable wearing the aforementioned.  Wearing a wetsuit or fins during a swim precludes  any of it from counting as PB mileage.

Neoprene Barracuda cap, silicon cap, goggles, & ear plugs.

Neoprene Barracuda cap, silicon cap, goggles, & ear plugs.

To pursue a Polar Bear, at any one time how long can one swim in the cold water?
Wearing the above apparatus, most participants can, using some willpower, swim for 30 minutes plus or minus.  Some may swim 45 minutes or more.  At 60 or so minutes almost everyone will become at least mildly hypothermic.

What about hypothermia?
Mild hypothermia is fairly common and each winter (except this past one) at least several members push themselves to severe hypothermia, which can result in a call for emergency medical help, an evacuation by ambulance, and a big bill ($2000 or so) for the emergency medical services.

Are there other risks?
While hypothermia is the most common risk, other known risks include heart and panic attacks, collisions with fixed objects or other swimmers, and being bit by a seal or sea lion. In the winter of 2008-2009 there was an unusually large number of brown pelicans in the area – when the herring were running in the bay, dive bombs by pelicans were an

The Dolphin Log is the Club's exceptional chronicle, outlet for original articles, and publication of record.

The Dolphin Log is the Club’s exceptional chronicle, outlet for original articles, and publication of record.

additional risk; there were no reported stabbings but many close calls, as this Dolphin Log cover attests.  (the entire Log archive may be accessed through the Dolphin Club website ,, or by clicking here.

What about this year?

As of the date of this post, results are being tabulated and will be made public in a week or two. One thing everyone knows is how warm the water was this winter, never below 53F. This is easily the warmest winter water in anyone’s memory. Reasons postulated for this very abnormal year include: a) lack of precipitation, especially snow in the Sierra Nevada, which melts to make for cold water flowing into SF Bay; b) unusual ocean winds and/or currents preventing normal upwelling. Given such a warm winter, an expected result would be greater participation with more members reaching the exalted status of “Polar Bear.”

Is the Polar Bear enjoyable?
Generally speaking, yes – otherwise it wouldn’t be as popular as it is. Even so, for some participants, especially late in the winter, the PB takes on a more tortuous persona, especially if the 40 mile threshold is within reach and the March 21 end date is approaching. As March 21 approaches, many members have been known to double or triple dip (swim 2-3 times/day, sauna in between) or even sleep at the club to ensure the time to reach 40 miles by midnight, March 21.* However, even if there are real hardships in completing a PB, there are major rewards: the satisfaction, the health benefits, the joy  of immersing oneself in a natural environment shared with others and the camaraderie when recounting it with others.

*some double or triple dip routinely. Joe Illick, PB champion at least 5 times (as a senior!) double dips during PB season almost daily. Another recent PB champion, John Nogue, resided over an hour away and had to fully utilize his 2-3 visits/week by swimming (or warming up) much of each day he visited the Club. See

What can you say about those who choose to participate?
First, some people just can’t resist a challenge.   (At least for certain things like the Polar Bear, that includes me.)  Second, PB seems to provide a “rush” of sorts, which seems to become addictive over the season. The rush may be physiological and it also may be related to the pleasure one gets from marking one’s miles on the chart.

There is a very fine discussion of the PB and some of its mental effects by my fellow Dolphin and good friend, Larry Scroggins, at

Do participants cheat or mark up imaginary miles to get to 40?
In my opinion, not much if at all. From discussions in the sauna, which in season almost always touch on water temperatures and the Polar Bear, my strong impression is that aspirants make all kinds of sacrifices to reach 40 honestly. They may swim before first light in order to be at work in time. They may drive an hour or more each way each day to get their mile.

What I find interesting about Polar Bear is the interrelation of the honor system used to track miles and the hardship some willingly endure in March to get to 40 miles. It would be easy to “cheat” and just mark up miles but I don’t think that happens very much. Instead, people push themselves to do 40 honorably, and push they do.

Is there competition within a given Polar Bear?
My view is that, except for a few, most participants are competing with themselves. Their goal is to get to 40 miles or their personal goal of x miles. However, as one might expect competitions involving others do take hold. One goal pursued by at least a few swimmers each season is to be PB champion by swimming the most PB miles. Another public competition was established a few years ago, “first to 40.”

Beyond the psychic rewards, are there any other?
Yes!  Each successful PB participant receives a small, rectangular slap of marble with his/her mileage noted on an attached plate.  The first such piece has a small polar bear token attached.

For each PB season the marble trinkets are distributed in conjunction with an awards dinner, which occurs just a couple of weeks before the next PB, thereby providing a psychological prod to put one’s name on the chart that will be going up December 21 @ 5AM.

Stack of PB "trophies" earned by the author.

Stack of PB “trophies” earned by the author.

Coming soon: Selected PB records and my Polar Bear Hall of Fame.

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