A Russian transplant enacts a ritual on the beach in Santa Monica

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Brian Watt/KPCC

Russian-born pro boxer Khabir Suleymanov emerges from the "holy" water in Santa Monica after taking three quick dips.

In Russia, believers in the Russian Orthodox Church marked Epiphany Tuesday by taking a dip in icy waters to commemorate the baptism of Christ. As storm clouds hovered over the beach in Santa Monica, professional boxer Khabir Suleymanov of Siberia participated in the ritual from afar.

Khabir Suleymanov stood by his minivan a while to survey the stormy waters of the Pacific. He looked like a surfer deciding whether to ride the high waves the storm was bringing in, but he was actually scouting for lifeguards or police officers he thought might keep him from his mission.

Eventually, he took to the beach without a board, stripped down to a pair of shorts, and headed for the cold water.

"It’s a holiday when Jesus, they wash him in water," said Suleymanov, who came to the U.S. five years ago from Siberia. Back home on Epiphany, men in trunks and women in bikinis jump into holes carved into iced over lakes. Three dips to wash away their sins. For Suleymanov, the Pacific tides do just fine.

"On this holiday, all water in the world, it’s holy," said Suleymanov, and he meant for everyone, even for those who aren't Russian Orthodox believers.

"I’m Muslim, but I believe for God, for Allah, it doesn’t matter."

So every year on January 19, he swims. This year, he did it quickly, and alone. His friends thought it was too cold.

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