It is January 1, New Year’s Day! The new year begins just as the old year ended: cold and windy. At first light it was 17°F with icy north winds gusting up to 25 knots. The wind chill is a brutal -5°F. Although the sun will be shining brightly today, it will not be generating much heat. High temperatures are still expected to be well below freezing.
(At the stroke of 1pm on New Year’s Day, hundreds of people took the plunge into the Atlantic Ocean at Asbury Park)
Mother Nature is being aloof today. No sense looking for lots of wildlife down by the bay. It is too unpleasantly cold. Most critters I am sure will be out of sight waiting for the unfriendly winds to die down. Normally active Gray Squirrels in my backyard have taken the cue. They have gone into dormancy for the day.
On average, January is the coldest month of the winter, with average temperatures around 31 degrees. The cold, however, does not scare away polar bears along the Jersey Shore.
(Historic Convention Hall in Asbury Park played host to the annual Sons of Ireland Polar Bear Plunge this year.)
As winter tightens its grip, the Jersey Shore takes on a robust, rugged, and wicked nature that only polar bears can handle. Let’s face it, spending winter along a Jersey Shore beach is not for the delicate and soft. This is why many critters migrate south. If a creature can survive winter along the Jersey Shore, then it can live on and endure.
So, on a bright, sunny, yet cold late morning day I headed down to Asbury Park for a unique winter attraction, only to be experienced along a winter beach. At 1pm, next to the legendary Asbury Park Convention Hall, will be the 6th annual Sons of Ireland Polar Bear Plunge.
(Bagpipes and flags flying were leading polar bears to the plunge)
Now, I have to be honest. While I enjoy winters along the Jersey Shore, I am not that resilient. Plunging into chilly oceans waters that are 42 degrees in just a bathing suit is not a test I am keen on. Yet, I certainly give credit to those polar bear people that can endure the icy Atlantic Ocean waters. They certainly believe in the old saying that every day is a beach day!
More to the point, the plunge is for a good cause. The event will raise hundreds of dollars for several important local non-profit organizations: the Special Olympics of New Jersey, Campership of Monmouth County, which raises funds to send disabled and underprivileged children to summer camp; and Clean Ocean Action, a leading regional environmental organization based at Sandy Hook. The annual Polar Bear Plunge event it is great celebration of winter and the start of a new calendar year.
(For a brief moment, it seemed like a small part of the Atlantic Ocean was filled with polar bears)
Nearly five minutes before the big plunge, there are approximately 1,000 people on-hand for the event, with about 250 brave and hardy people getting ready for the plunge of their life. The procession of potential hardy polar bears to the beach was evident with bagpipers and the display of U.S. and Ireland flags from the Sons of Ireland. The polar bears trudged onto the chilly sand wrapped in towels, bathrobes, blankets and sweat suits, anything to stay warm.
Then came the big moment for everyone at the stroke of one, the polar bears casted off their warm layers and charged whooping and screaming into the frigid ocean. The brave swimmers marked the beginning of 2009 by taking a dip in the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean at Asbury Park. I am sure there were those people that thought about chickening out, but then saw the many children and grandmothers getting wet. It's just kind of a crazy thing to do, warmth be damned
Brrrrr! Then it was over. About 30 seconds later, it was all over for most folks. They had proven something this day while dripping wet and with a slight blue tinge to their skin. Actions quickly turned to finding something warm to wear and something hot to drink as their legs felt as if they were on fire.
(Then it is over and there is quick dash to get out and find something to warm your body)
The Polar Bear Plunge along the northern Jersey Shore is quickly becoming a beloved New Year's Day tradition in Monmouth County. It has become one of the most popular ways to start the new year. The uniqueness of this event, unlike many others, is that it involves being outdoors, in clean water, with many people of all genders, age groups, income levels, and every demographic area of the region all coming together, with one goal in mind, - a craving for cold-water swimming and a chance to find people just as crazy as you are.