South Korean singer turned YouTube sensation PSY, a pair of young elves and two girls donning polar bear hats with matching white bikinis were among a mob that dashed into the chilly waters at Atlantic Avenue Beach in Amagansett on a cold New Year’s Day to celebrate the 11th annual Polar Bear Plunge.
This year’s plunge was appropriately frigid—or, as East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione announced at one point “a balmy 38 degrees”—breaking a recent trend of warmer plunges. Last year, plungers dipped into waters during a 50-plus degree New Year’s Day.
The event, known as the Food Pantry Plunge, was sponsored by the East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue, the Hurricane swim team and the YMCA East Hampton RECenter. It was held to raise money for local food pantries, and required a $25 admission.
“This is pleasant,” said John Ryan Jr., while remarking on the weather. He launched the tradition 11 years ago and can recall some bitter plunges accompanied by rain, sleet and heavy winds. “Some years it was miserable,” he added.
Last year, 450 people took the plunge, according to Gabrielle Scarpacia, the executive director of the East Hampton Food Pantry. They raised about $11,000. This year’s proceeds will benefit pantries in East Hampton, Amagansett, Springs, Wainscott and the Food Pantry Farm.
On Tuesday, the beach had the feel of a summer’s day, minus the warm weather and the sun. The smell of food drifted through the air—there were refreshments in booths nearby—and families, young and old, clad in thick coats, New Year’s hats, Santa hats and regular hats, mingled with each other while waiting to plunge.
A costume contest took place at 12:30—a half an hour before plunge time. The winners were the pair of green elves— two sisters and second-time plungers Olivia and Hailey Duca, 10 and 7 respectively. They were awarded a gold-decorated bathroom plunger.
“It feels like victory!” yelled 10-year-old Olivia while spinning around with her arms outstretched.
The bronze plunger went to Joan Tulp, of Amagansett. She described the feeling of plunging like “climbing a mountain.” The silver plunger was awarded to Carly Drew, 14, and Marikate Ryan, 13, the pair of girls who wore polar bear-themed bikinis. They’ve been plunging since they were 5 years old.
Others also described the experience similarly. John Baron, of Springs, said he took the plunge two years ago. He likes it because it’s “very invigorating.” He decided to do it again this year in part because his 6-year-old son Luke, who is just getting over a cold, really wanted to do it.
“I did it two years ago and I enjoyed it,” Mr. Baron said. “I felt great when it was done.”
Mr. Ryan echoed similar sentiments. “I look at it as a baptism to the new year,” he said. “It’s a great way to start the new year.”