Spectators often gather along the ledge of Taylor Dock to observe a group of people jump into the bay. They probably think, “Why on earth would anyone ever jump into that freezing cold water?”
That group is the Cold Plunge Club from Western Washington University. In March 2023, first-year Caleb Barville and his friends decided to start the club.
“We were going out and plunging every day anyway,” he said. “We’ve been doing that since October.”
Rain or shine, club members regularly take trips to local bodies of water and jump, or plunge, below the surface. They stay in for five to ten minutes in order to absorb all the health benefits they believe the cold water offers.
David Hansen, a physician and the interim medical director of the Western Student Health Center, said although scientists have become more interested in this area of study, there is little-to-no evidence-based research on what effects cold water has on the body.
“There are reports of cold-water immersion’s effect on the immune system, potential effects on the cardiovascular system and protection against insulin resistance and improved insulin sensitivity and mental health,” he said in an email.
It seems the belief that cold water is better for you is enough. In a few short months, the club has built a community of people who are looking for the adrenaline rush that comes with challenging physical acts, like plunging into cold water.
The club plunges seven days a week, with Barville himself plunging twice a day, the first at 6 a.m.
“If you’re plunging in the morning, you’re conquering the hardest thing at the beginning of your day and everything else is just easy afterward,” he said.
With an open time frame and a variety of plunge locations, the group has grown to a regular size of at least eight people per day, with even more showing up on sunnier days.
Taylor Dock has been a consistent spot for the club’s jumps, but they have begun to branch out to other locations. The group recently went cliff jumping at Whatcom Falls. The club has goals to incorporate the opportunity to return to the Falls once a week, as well as eventually head to Baker Lake. The club announces the daily plunge location on its Instagram story.
Second-year Rawley Spencer joined his roommates as a member of the club about a month ago after hearing about the beneficial experiences others were having. Spencer’s biggest advice to newer club members is about the endurance you build the more you plunge.
“Limit yourself at first, because the water is very cold,” he said. “It kinda takes you off guard the first few times you jump.”
Hansen said even with possible benefits it’s important to be aware of the risks cold water has, including hypothermia.
“Plunging the body into cold water triggers a sudden, rapid increase in breathing, heart rate and blood pressure known as the cold shock response,” he said.
Hansen said the body will slowly build up a tolerance, but suggested proper plunging aftercare such as drinking water and immediately putting on dry layers to allow your body to regain a natural temperature.
Spencer still recommends the club to “anyone and everyone.” He said it is fun to meet people and occasionally find random hikes to different bodies of water to plunge in.
“Everyone here is very welcoming and nice,” he said.
Interested parties can join the club through the WIN here. There are no requirements for joining other than showing up for plunges.
“It’s important that [you] know how to swim, but we do have multiple trained lifeguards as well as a first responder,” Barville said. “[Also], bring a fun attitude.”
Hansen recommends talking with medical providers about any concerns regarding the safety of cold-water immersion on a personal basis. He also said no one should do a cold plunge without someone else present.
Barville has hopes to use the club to raise funding for more hikes as well as conduct beach clean-ups around Bellingham.
A beach clean-up and bonfire is scheduled for May 26, with time and location to be determined and will be announced on the club’s Instagram page.
With summer fast approaching, the club is eager to bring in more new members. Barville challenges students to join in on the action.
“The water is warming up, so we’re going to start looking for colder places to plunge,” he said.
Deven Meddaugh (she/her) is a sophomore and is a campus life reporter for The Front this quarter. She is an RA in the Edens-Higginson community and in her free time you can catch her hanging out with friends and family, playing Just Dance, re-watching her favorite movies/TV shows or writing.