MARGATE – Thousands of polar bears packed the beach at Essex Avenue to start the New Year off with a refreshing dip in the ocean. Some gathered at Robert’s Place beforehand to start the day off with a little libation before hiking a block to the beach near the Margate Fishing Pier. It was the 25th year the bar sponsored the event, which is a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project.
“I’ve been coming for about 15 years,” said Michele Kelly of Ventnor. “It’s fun to hang out on the beach in the middle of winter.”
She was joined by Leo Sayers of Galloway Township who remarked that the annual tradition was a “great community event.”
“It’s a great way to start the New Year with a thorough cleansing,” he said.
Christine Brewster of Robert’s Place said the bar conducts the event to raise money for veterans’ services by selling long-sleeved T-shirts and hoodies. On Tuesday, the bar had 2,000 of them and it was likely that they would sell out before the plunge even began.
Some revelers wore thick terry-cloth robes embroidered with the name of the event on the back.
For Ashley Winter, 16, of New Castle, Delaware, it was her first plunge.
“I always wanted to do it, but I couldn’t because I was marching as a Mummer in the Spartans Brigade. This year, I decided to take the plunge,” she said.
John “Woodsey” DePaul, wrapped in one of those embroidered robes, brought his banjo and the whole family to the Polar Bear Plunge.
“I have 20 people staying at my place on Franklin,” he said.
The Margate Fire Department Dive Team was at the ready to respond if needed, but many said the water wasn’t cold enough to take your breath away.
“It was cold the first time I went in,” said Sean Eden, 11, of Margate. “But it wasn’t so cold the second time.”
He was there with his parents, twin sister Siena and some of his sixth-grade classmates from the Eugene A. Tighe Middle School.
“I was in the water for three minutes and under water for 15 seconds,” he said.
The water temperature was 47 degress.
Siena said it was her second time at the Polar Bear Plunge.
Last year, it was too cold, and the event was cancelled, but she was there the year before, she said.
“I went in three times today,” she said.
When asked if she would participate in Ventnor’s plunge, which will be held 11:15 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 16 on President’s Weekend, Siena said, “Not likely.”
“Once a year is enough,” she said.