MARGATE – The 26th annual Polar Bear Plunge hosted by Robert’s Place attracted thousands of people looking to start the New Year off with a new lease on life, or just do something wild and crazy.
The Margate Pier weather forecast noted the water was 45-degrees, just one degree warmer than the air temperature, and anyone wanting to surf or frolic should wear a thick winter wetsuit, neoprene hood, glove and boots, otherwise “it will be difficult to stay comfortable in the sea for long today.”
No one, except for a lone lifeguard, heeded the warning.
Half the fun of a New Year’s Day in Margate is showing up at a favorite watering hole to imbibe a bit and work up the courage to take the plunge.
Two women showed up in fringed bathing suits ready for the Roaring 20s, a young boy was buried in the sand with his clothes on, and groups of revelers fired up the grills on the tailgates of their pick-up trucks.
Egged on by her daughter Stefanie Kennedy, who has been dipping in the ocean on New Year’s Day since 2009, Cindy Kennedy of Sicklerville took her first jump in the frigid ocean.
“My kids have been going in for many years and my daughter has been nagging me, so today they are passing the tradition up a generation,” she said.
John DePaul of Margate, who has participated in the Robert’s Place polar bear plunge for the last 22 years, brought his bango and led the group of family and friends in a rousing rendition of the Eagles fight song before heading out to the beach.
Mullica Township resident Doug Walker, known to many as “The Happy Well Driller,” took his second plunge into the icy waters off Margate.
“I’m plunging for peace,” he said.
Resident and Board of Education member Jim Swift, who was a lieutenant on the Margate Beach Patrol during the 1980s, said he always thought the people who showed up for the plunge had to either be “drunk or just plain crazy,” until his 7-year-old daughter said, “Daddy, let’s do it.”
“I couldn’t say no,” he said, “and we have been doing it ever since. She’s 16 now.”
Ericka Dlugosz of Northeast Philadelphia and her boyfriend Dan Di’Orio of Gloucester Township gave new meaning to the phrase “taking the plunge.”
They donned cuddly royal blue robes and gathered with friends and family at Robert’s Place before taking the short walk to the beach where they continued the party. Several members of the group had beach tags pinned to their sleeves showing every year they took the plunge.
At the stroke of noon, they all quickly ran in and out of the frigid water, just to say they did it one more year.
But this year was extra special for the couple. After their plunge, Di’Orio got down on one knee and asked her to be his bride.
“She said yes,” he said as he placed the diamond ring on her finger.
“It was a perfect day. The water was a balmy 45 degrees and the sun peaked out a bit and I asked the love of my life to marry me,” Di’Orio said.
As the sun bounced off the brilliant rock on her finger, Dlugosz said the two have been dating for about five years.
Di’Orio said his family has owned a shore house in Ventnor for the last 20 years and the Polar Bear Plunge has become a family tradition.
“This place means the world to me, and this New Year’s plunge has my heart. I thought it would be fitting to ask her to marry me on this special day and everyone I love was here to see it,” he said.
The bar started the annual New Year’s event to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. There is no fee to participate, but sales of commemorative T-shirts provide funds for the veterans group.