By Peter Vankevich
All things considered, it wasn’t that bad. “The water was warmer than I expected,” said Whisper Meacham. This was the general consensus of the brave souls who gathered on the beach at the airport ramp and welcome the New Year by diving into the Atlantic Ocean. Joelle LeBlanc who helped publicize this relatively unorganized event, thought there were more than 35 plungers and perhaps an equal number of friends, family and the curious watching from the beach. Justin LeBlanc, Joelle’s husband, found the whole experience exhilarating. “This was the fourth year for this on Ocracoke,” he said. “Last year, I think there were only six or seven of us that did it. This year we put it on Facebook and the local newspapers publicized it and the turnout has been great.”
Elsewhere, this is also known as a polar bear plunge and there are many organized events in the U.S., Canada, the UK and the Netherlands, especially on New Year’s Day. These events are often used as fundraisers for charitable organizations. One of the largest is the PlungeFest that will take place this year on January 24th at Sandy Point State Park, at the base of the western side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland. Several thousand participants are expected to take the plunge, raising money for the Special Olympics. Their inspiration derives from the Coney Island Polar Bear Club founded in 1903 and whose members take regular plunges throughout the winter. Plunger Jarett Werley noted that St. Andrews University in Scotland has a tradition called the May Dip which is held annually at dawn on May Day when the students stay awake until dawn, at which time they jump into the North Sea.
Stuart Eiland warmed up by jogging about two miles from his house across from the lighthouse to the airport. “I’m ready to cool off,” he quipped. This was the second time for Scott Bradley. Asked how he prepared for it mentally and physically he said he had a thimble and half of wine. Melinda Sutton thought the latest in the year she had swam on Ocracoke was October and was looking forward to it.
For some, this was a family event, Kim and Roger Meacham and their two children Whisper and Django all plunged as did Megan Aldridge and her son Parker.
Many watchers were equally content not to participate and just enjoy the day. “I’m not a cold weather girl,” said Molly Lovejoy, who last year transferred from Emerson College in Boston to the University of New Orleans.
The water temperature was about 60 degrees. “It was not as shocking as I expected. The water was actually quite pleasant. But I won’t be doing it every day, though I will do it again next year,” said Megan Aldridge.
“It’s a great way to start the New Year. I’m ready for it,” she added.