“Are you doing the Polar Bear Plunge?” a Tybee Island friend asked a group of people at work.
“Are you crazy?” came the response; “I’m not freezing my butt off in that water!”
It seemed that only fruitcakes and nuts were crazy enough to jump in the Atlantic Ocean in winter on New Year’s Day.
Yet, when the hosts announced something different this year, even the most sane of people were tempted to come out and test the waters.
This year the plunge into the cold Atlantic waters (water temps were in the low 50s) would be proceeded by an attempt to break the Guinness book of world records for most people wearing swim caps.
For $25 you could register and get a long sleeve T-shirt, a pretty cool looking Swim Cap with the event logo and the chance to jump into the water with over 2000 other crazy nuts. Who could resist?
New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday this year and the beach was hopping the night before with midnight revelers and party goers bringing in the New Year. There were fireworks on the beach and most people did not get to sleep until well after 2 am, yet by 10 in the morning, they started rolling in, wearing bathrobes and PJs, feather boas, glitter and tinsel, 2012 sunglasses, princess tiaras, underwear and capes.
A few brave souls wore skin tight bikinis and swim briefs and two men shocked some and got others all a flutter by wearing thongs, one in a lime green Borat style leotard and another in a jock strap decorated in flowers and greenery.
Many people stumbled upon the event by accident while others planned their vacations around it.
There were families and friends in abundance. Four members from Savannah Adventure and Activities Group came early to test the water and walk the beach while waiting on their still sleeping companions to join them.
One family came dressed as elves. There was a man dressed as a Whoopi Cushion, Fred Flintstone, the Cat in the Hat, several Caped Crusaders, a mermaid, several devils and pirates and a few polar bears, one with a plunger on his/her head.
The official count for the world record was 2049 which broke the July 2011 count of 546 in Osaka Japan, but the count has to be verified by Guinness before making the announcement that a new world record was actually set.
Once Guinness accepts the record then participants will be able to go on-line and download a certificate saying they were part of the record, even if it only stands for a few months or days!
A lot of people who watched but did not participate asked why people jumped into the water.
One lady replied, “it is like washing off the old and getting invigorated for the new year coming in.”
“Sort of like Baptism,” said another. ”You shed the old you and become transformed, putting the past behind you and looking forward to the future.”
One fellow confessed, “I was drunk and my friends made me do it….,” so much for the philosophical.
Standing in the corral area with 2048 other people was an interesting experience.
As the official video was being taken, the swim capped participants waved toward the pier, some adjusting their caps which were giving them headaches.
At noon, amidst cheers and shouts, the crowd ran in mass toward the somewhat tame Atlantic.
Granted the air temperatures were in the low 70s, but the water was chilly. There were rumors that the plunge had been cancelled due to Portuguese Man O’ Wars washing up on the beach, but apparently they were confined to Hilton Head and it was estimated that nearly 3000 people took the plunge, most just going knee deep, but some diving headfirst and others being thrown in or splashed by well fun loving friends.
One would think it would be pretty scary to have a crowd of thousands running behind you into the ocean with nowhere to get out of the way, but everyone was pretty accommodating and no one, other than friends and family members tried to submerge you.
One rogue wave managed to splash waist high, and granted some barely dipped a toe in, but there was something thrilling about being surrounded by so many others doing something as silly as you were that it really made you feel like you were welcoming in the New Year with fun and good spirit, even if you hadn’t drunk a drop of liquor all night!
Most people ran out as quickly as they had run in, but some stayed to play in the water which felt more like a mountain stream than the warm waters Savannah natives are used to in the summer.
Mind you, one day later the temperatures were in the 40s and two days later they are dropping into the 20s, so the weather was just perfect for those who just wanted to be a little on the crazy side without suffereing frost bite.
The people at Tybee can be a strange lot. You almost wonder if they dress in their PJs and bathrobes and pastel suits all the time and not just on this special occasion.
In any event, the plunge raised money for a good cause, to add restrooms and air conditioning to the Tybee Post Theater, an historic brick building which will host movies, plays, art exhibits, lectures and more, and reflects the eclectic charm of the Tybee community.
The event also helped Tybee Island merchants and civic groups which sold hot chocolate, coffee and hotdogs early in the morning.
One of the men from the Sons of American Legion, who were selling hot dogs like mad, said, “We should have gone for the Guinness book of world records for most hotdogs eaten for breakfast.”
It was certainly a fun event and a beautiful day at the beach, even if it was winter, at least the water was “bear-able”.