SEA ISLE CITY - Thousands of people crowded the streets and shore line in Sea Isle City on Saturday for the 22nd annual Polar Bear Plunge despite frigid conditions.
The temperature was in the low 20s as swimmers took the plunge. Winds that averaged around 25 mph made it feel like the temperature was only in the single digits.
A sea of shivering and daring participants made their way from the main tent near LaCosta Lounge to the beach near JFK Boulevard. As the wind cut through layers of clothing, shivering spectators wondered how it was possible for the swimmers to stand on the beach with their arms, legs and often torsos exposed to the elements.
They plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, navigating their way past a sand bar in order to reach water deep enough to plunge all the way in. Some wore costumes; others were in bathing suits and some went in the water in shirts and shorts. The shore line was littered with clothes, coats, blankets and towels.
Once soaked, swimmers hugged their own bodies as they rushed back to shore to wrap up.
“It’s freezing!” said Steve Collaro of Jersey City.
“Everything is tingling,” said Joseph Greco of Limerick, Pa.
The plunge has become an annual tradition for many.
“The reason we keep coming has been blurred. It started as a bet, and now it is a ritual,” said Greg Whorral of Pittsburgh, Pa. “It’s actually very cleansing. When you get out of the water and you put your clothes on, you are overwhelmed with a feeling of warmth and cleansing.”
The Polar Bear Plunge is the main event during the Polar Bear Weekend in Sea Isle City that attracts crowds from Friday through Sunday. Festivities kicked off Friday night with live music and the polar bear king, queen, prince and princess contests.
The music continued throughout the day on Saturday as visitors filled the main tent at LaCosta Lounge for a costume contest as well as food and beverages from local eateries. The plunge officially took place at 2 p.m., but a few eager participants jumped in the water a little early. Rescue personnel from Sea Isle City and the surrounding area were on hand throughout the plunge.
A Run and Walk for Autism, sponsored by Mike’s Seafood in Sea Isle, took place Sunday morning. Proceeds from that event benefited local Autism charities.
The Polar Bear Plunge benefits revitalization and improvements in the city, said longtime volunteer Ben Bevan of Folsom. “A mass of humanity comes out of that tent and heads to the beach. It’s quite a spectacle,” he said.