You can ring in the New Year with champagne, football bowl games and parades on television. Or, you can go for a dip in the Pacific Ocean.

Scores of people from across the region will usher in 2016 by participating in the 56th annual Penguin Club Swim, a New Year’s Day tradition organized through Southern California Aquatics.

The free event at Venice Beach is meant to inspire people of all appropriate ages to be active in the coming months while boosting membership for the Masters swimming club, which operates in Santa Monica and throughout the Westside.

“You start the new year off with something that makes you feel good,” said Anne Artley, communications director for SCAQ. “It’s a clean, fresh start to the new year. The ocean is kind of symbolic for washing away the old year and starting anew.”

Artley knows firsthand what it feels like to splash through the ocean in January. The New Mexico native had become accustomed to spending New Year’s Day sitting on the couch, eating chips and guacamole, drinking beer and watching college football.

After working a couple swims into her regular weekly routine, Artley decided to enter the 2015 edition of the event. And although she didn’t have a wetsuit, she said it was a satisfying (if somewhat chilly) experience.

“Participating in the Penguin Club ocean swim was my reward for all the hard work,” she said. “And boy, did it feel great to see each workout pay off in the open water.

“It was cold at first, but after you warm up a little bit you do get into a kind of rhythm.”

The event, which includes a 100-yard course for amateur swimmers and a 400-yard challenge course for experienced athletes, attracts people from Santa Monica, Venice and throughout Southern California. Among last year’s attendees was “Baywatch” actress Yasmine Bleeth, Artley said.

The annual New Year’s Day swim can be traced back to the 1950s, when Michigan native Cecelia Kilger began swimming at Venice Beach. Kilger, who grew up swimming in Lake Michigan, met like-minded folks in Southern California and helped to establish an informal club of ocean swimmers, Artley said. And the Jan. 1 event has been held ever since.

“We really encourage swimmers of all levels to come out and try it,” Artley said, adding that 100-yard swimmers don’t have to put their heads under water.

The fastest male and female swimmers in the 400-yard course will be crowned prince and princess of the beach, Artley said.

SCAQ has approximately 800 members and hosts training sessions at Santa Monica Swim Center, which is currently undergoing repairs. The organization also holds ocean swims off Santa Monica beaches in the summer.

Registration for the free New Year’s Day swim will be held at 11 a.m. at Venice Beach, near where Venice Boulevard meets the beach. The swim begins at noon. Snacks and drinks will be provided. Commemorative T-shirts will be available for $10.

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