Polar Bear Plunge gets 2013 off to an icy start

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Northfield residents Olivia Rzemyk, Sara Van Dyke and Jessie Higbee, all 12, prepare to plunge.  Northfield residents Olivia Rzemyk, Sara Van Dyke and Jessie Higbee, all 12, prepare to plunge.

More than a thousand people started the New Year with a celebratory dip in the Atlantic Ocean off Downbeach. Back-to-back plunges were held at Essex Avenue in Margate  followed by the plunge at the Newport Avenue beach in Ventnor Jan. 1.

In Margate, hundreds of people began gathering on the beach well before the noon start time for the plunge hosted by Robert’s Place. Others took warm refuge in Robert’s, the pre- and post-plunge party location.

This year, T-shirt and sweatshirt sales benefited the memory of Joseph “Tom” Dougherty.

When Ventnor Polar Bear Plunge organizer Mike Wiesen sounded the air horn at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 1, the Atlantic Ocean was a cool 42 degrees, nearly matched on land with temperatures registering at 44 degrees.

Wiesen said he does the plunge because it feels great – after the initial shock. The waiting, it seems, is the hardest part.

“Afterward, you’re just so relieved you did it,” he said.

He estimated that the thousand or so polar bears who jumped in were matched by at least that many spectators on the beach.

For some, like Ventnor resident Sparky Buckley, the plunge is an annual tradition dating back decades. He said he is a 25-year veteran of polar bear plunges and has a solid decade of Ventnor plunges under his robe.

This year was the inaugural plunge for Henry Decasablanca of Ventnor and his daughter Katrina, 13.

“I thought it would be fun,” Katrina said after a quick dip.

Her father said he was skeptical at first but decided to seize the moment.

“I want to take New Year’s as an opportunity to feel what nature has to offer,” Decasablanca said.

The crowd began forming on the beach 30 minutes before the horn sounded. However, after the short sprint into waist-deep water, it was over in seconds for most. The weather was less than ideal for a beach day, even for January, so there was less wading and swimming than in years past.

Wiesen said next year he is handing over the reigns to the city tourism board to create a larger event to help ring in 2014.

Once he put on some warm clothes, Wiesen said, “It feels great, but I can’t feel my feet.”

After the plunge, chili made by Ann Marie Wiesen and Malelani Café and lentil soup from Isabella’s Ventnor Café was available free to participants and spectators.

Proceeds from T-shirt and sweatshirt sales sold at the event benefit the Ventnor Recreation, specifically youth baseball and softball.

Photos by Shaun Smith


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