On New Year’s Eve in 1981, Carlin Soulé stood on his porch at The Way Station. He and his wife, Margaret, had moved from San Pedro to serve American cuisine at their Cayucos restaurant. Business didn’t look promising.
“Sure is dead on New Year’s Eve. We should do something,” Sandi Ford McClung recalls him suggesting to staff waiting for their next customer. “That evening the concept of the Carlin Soulé Polar Bear Dip was born.
“The next morning, Carlin, Margaret, Kathy Dale, Wendy and her dog and I met on the beach by the Cayucos veterans hall wearing only our bathing suits,” McClung said. “We ran into the water together. A few people came out to watch. We did it four or five years before it caught on. The second year we sold 20 T-shirts.”
McClung shared her most vivid memory of Soulé, “He was a wonderful man. On Sunday mornings he’d come to the restaurant and read several newspapers back to front. He could talk to anyone about any topic. He didn’t allow television in the restaurant — just good food and conversation.”
Soulé died of melanoma in 1987.
“Margaret remarried an underwater photographer and moved to Hawaii, and Cayucos remembers Carlin each Polar Bear day,” McClung added.
Margaret inspired McClung’s career as a licensed massage therapist. Her shop, Sandi’s Massage, is adjacent to Hoppe’s Way Station Restaurant.
Nadine Lilley, a licensed real estate broker with her husband, Andy, inherited the Carlin Soulé Polar Bear Dip historical scrapbook.
She invites anyone who has pictures or stories to share or who wants to see the scrapbook to drop by Highway 1 and Ocean Boulevard and enjoy 30 years of chills and thrills.
In her news release for 2012, Lilley wrote, “The Polar Bears had to totally (head to toe) immerse their bodies into these waters. Costumes were allowed but no wetsuits.
“People began to make this crazy dip for various reasons: to cure a hangover, to cleanse for the new year or just because it seemed to be the thing to do,” she added. “His legacy has lived on and continued to grow. Now families have made it their New Year’s (Day) tradition.”
Young and old participate, with awards being given for a variety of reasons, including creative costumes.
Last year, thousands watched or participated, including Ken Kaberline and his Cayucos Lions Club buddies, who bought drag queen costumes at the Cayucos Seniors Thrift Store.
Lilley reports dippers need not register for the no-charge plunge. Festivities begin at 9:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day. Brave the waves at noon.
Bragging shirts are available for purchase. For details, contact the Chamber of Commerce at www.cayucoschamber.com or 995-1200.
Reach Judy Salamacha at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-1422.