Text and photos by Connie Leinbach
About 40 adults and children washed away the old year and began 2016 with a dip in the Ocracoke waters at the airport ramp on New Year’s Day yesterday.
The air temperature didn’t deter many in the group from stripping down to their bathing suits minutes before the 2 p.m. start of the Polar Plunge.
“I’m ready!” said Junior Perez, who with his wife Gloria and children Edwin, 12, and Melanie, 8, all took the plunge.
Several of the youths in the group ventured beyond the breaking waves and plunged for almost 15 minutes after the start. A number of parents had to coax their children out of the water.
One of those was Mau Perez, 6, who was the youngest to plunge, said Jason Wells, who organized the event. Mau also was the last person to get out of the water.
Another youngster who was one of the last to get out was Carter O’Neal, 8, who polar-plunged for the first time, his mother, Erin, said.
“It’s a fabulous way to start the new year,” said Megan Aldridge after her plunge. “I went under three times and each time it took my breath away.”
“I didn’t want to come out,” said Dave Frum, emerging from the waves after a few minutes in the water.
While the air temperature was around 55 degrees, that water was a bit warmer, at around 67 degrees, said Woody Rowe of Buxton after his plunge.
“The water temperature at Jeannette’s Pier in Nags Head is 52,” he said.
That’s because Ocracoke is warmed by the Gulf Stream and points up the Outer Banks dip into the waters of the cold Labrador Current. Both of those currents come together at Cape Hatteras.
“It’s better to do the plunge here than in Massachusetts,” said Joan Crowe, who with her husband John were New Year’s plunging for the fourth time.
Rowe, who, with his wife Bonnie, “vacations” on Ocracoke every weekend, said while he enjoyed the silliness of the event he mostly likes the camaraderie of the Ocracoke community.
“They’re always getting together for something,” he said.
Friday was the fifth year for the event, which had about six participants that first year.
“This year there are more kids,” Wells said.
For native O’cocker William Howard, the New Year’s plunge was just another day at the beach.
“It’s warmer today than it ever is at Nags Head,” he said as he warmed up in his car afterwards. “I’ve been in the water every day I could since Christmas,” he said. “That’s why we live here.”