By Jana Mackin
Facing the coldest conditions yet for the three-year-old event, more than 200 participants decked in little more than swimming suits and shivers charged into the Atlantic Ocean for the Wrightsville Beach Polar Plunge on New Year’s Day.
Despite cold temperatures that plunged to the 20s, organizers said they had a limited drop off in attendance, still drawing a crowd of near 300 for the fundraiser that supports Communities in Schools, a nonprofit which empowers more than 1,000 students to stay in school and graduate, said executive director Louise Hicks. Even with fewer participants, the event raised at least $14,383, topping last year’s total of approximately $12,000, said Hicks, who added that more donations were still expected.
While some wore costumes- the UNCW Seahawk, Michael Phelps and the shark, and a formally-attired couple- many just bundled up as long as possible in blankets, coats and hats, sipping chocolate, coffee and tea, munching doughnuts and biscuits. As the horn sounded at noon, a thundering herd of polar plungers sprinted into the crashing waves with shouts of “whooeee” and “it’s freezing” before the swimmers beat a hasty retreat after a few seconds in the water.
“What’s a few moments of toughness when helping kids who are less fortunate?” said Beth Forbes, accompanied by her children, William, 6, and Abigail,11, both swimmers at the Cape Fear Aquatic Club. The kids have plunged all three years and agree this was the coldest “Plunging for a Purpose” in memory.
“I do it because I like the ocean. I like to swim and a lot of people benefit from it,” said Abigail Forbes. “I normally swim around in circles to get warm only because my skin is turning magenta.”
While a similar polar plunge in Holden Beach was canceled due to the cold, the temperatures tested the mettle of even the most stoic polar plungers. Members of the Hoggard High School swim team acknowledge the freezing bite of the Atlantic Ocean’s upper 40s degrees water temperature, with temperatures hovering down to the lower 20s. Last year, the Hoggard High swimmers swam off shore and stayed in a circle for about 10 minutes. However, this year’s plunge was considerably briefer.
“It was insane. It was so cold,” said Virginia Griffin, 16, Hoggard High School swim team member and event lifeguard. “It was really fast. Everyone got their toes wet and then ran back. The last one of the team was out within a minute.”
Besides the swim, the event featured music from DJ Cullen Seward and an after party with local reggae band Signal Fire rocking the South End Surf Shop. Organizers awarded prizes as well, with the Burd family from Ontario winning for furthest travelled and the Buzz Kills team organized by local Realtor Jim Busby.
Wearing a tuxedo and gown, Mimi and Eric Marquis won best costume, as the couple said this year’s plunge provided a tougher challenge than past years.
“It’s much colder than the year before,” said Mimi Marquis. “But it’s a great way to celebrate the New Year and do something for Communities in Schools. It’s great to help out.”