A last-minute shedding of towels and sweats, a dash across the chilly sand, a rapid dunk in the ocean, a sensation of startling cold, followed by a sprint back toward warmth.
Hundreds of hardy “polar bears” are expected to partake in this routine at Coopers Beach in Southampton Village on Saturday morning, and several hundred others are expected to crowd the shore watching them—not to mention the approximately 30 rescue workers that Village Mayor Mark Epley says will be on standby, including divers, surfers, emergency medical technicians, lifeguards, police and firefighters.
The Polar Bear Plunge for Hunger, now in its eighth year, has emerged as a wildly popular early December ritual. With warmer-than-usual temperatures in the days preceding this year’s Plunge, the ocean temperature is expected to be about 55 degrees—downright balmy compared to last year, when it was in the mid- to upper-40s.
The event is a benefit for Human Resources of the Hamptons, a Southampton organization whose mission is to help those facing poverty, hunger, illness or homelessness. Funds raised by the Plunge go toward the organization’s food pantry, medical transportation services and children’s programs, according to its director, Mary Ann Tupper, herself a plunger who advises polar bears, above all else, to wear something on their feet to withstand the cold sand. Plungers must raise a minimum of $25 to participate or pay that amount as a registration fee and register at the event by 9:30 a.m. The seaward scramble takes off at 10 a.m.
Ms. Tupper said the goal this year is to raise $100,000; last year the event raised about $94,000. She said she anticipates about 500 to 600 Plungers plus another 300 to 400 spectators.
No new elements will be unveiled at the 2011 Plunge. “When you have something good, leave it alone,” Ms. Tupper commented, with a laugh.
A raffle to see polar bears in Canada—a feature of last year’s event—has been eliminated this year, because it ended up draining about $3,000 rather than raising funds, Mr. Tupper noted.
Plungers come with a motley of approaches. Some dunk their heads under the waves numerous times, and others poke no more than a big toe in the sea foam. Many don whimsical costumes. Footwear is highly recommended by veteran Plungers.
One of the most highly anticipated facets is the unveiling of the mayor’s costume. Mr. Epley has dressed in the past as a banana and Elvis, the latter a costume he recycled last year. As usual, he is keeping this year’s costume under tight wraps. “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you,” he likes to joke.
He did reveal, however, that this year’s get-up will be “completely different” from any of his previous costumes. He also said it would be a themed costume involving three of his four children, Zach, 24, Nick, 22, and Marissa, 17. His other child, Chris, 20, will be at the Plunge as an ambulance driver.
Taking the Plunge is an unwritten requirement of being a Village Board member, although the mayor and Trustee Richard Yastrzemski are the only two known to go all the way under water. For his part, Mr. Yastrzemski always jogs into the waves wearing a business suit—the same suit for the past three Plunges, his signature Plunge attire since he was voted into office in 2008. He said his suit is clean and ready to go, with the exception, perhaps, of some sand in the pockets.
The last year Trustee Bill Hattrick served on the board, in 1993, there was no such thing as a Polar Bear Plunge. Mr. Hattrick, who returned to office this year, confirmed this week that he will jump in for the first time. “Believe me, I’m not going to go all dressed up as the Abominable Snowman or anything like that. I’ll be ‘Shoeless Joe’ Jackson,” he chuckled.
Meanwhile, Trustee Nancy McGann suggested she would take a more cautious approach. “Define ‘plunge,’” she replied when asked if she would be plunging this year. According to her definition, she will be plunging—that is, her feet will get wet. But she’ll likely don footwear. “Those rocks are killer when you’re cold,” she said.
Trustee Bonnie Cannon plans a similar foot-only strategy, albeit sans shoes. “I usually try to get my toes manicured and pedicured so they look very pretty when I stick my foot in,” she laughed.
The Plunge, in all its zaniness for a cause, involves many more characters than just those in government, of course.
Travis Corwin, 26, a village resident, said this will be his fourth Plunge and his first being sponsored by an organization he recently joined, the Old Town Masonic Lodge.