The premise is fairly simple: go to the shore in the heart of winter and jump in the freezing ocean.
As I learned on Saturday at the 2012 Polar Bear Plunge in Sea Isle City, New Jersey, getting zig-zag-walking wasted also seems to be a common activity of participants in the yearly ritual.
Now, first let me say that before I write about what a shitshow our day was, we also saw some really cute/awesome kids who looked to be about 5 years old run into the ocean with their dad. So at least parts of the plunge could be family friendly. But that warm and fuzzy feeling didn't last very long.
Here are the most memorable anecdotes from my experience of jumping into the ocean on Saturday and hanging out with a bunch of lunatics all day in Sea Isle.
This was our first Polar Bear Plunge. My older cousin has had it on his bucket list forever and for whatever reason he rounded up a bunch of us this year to drive down to Sea Isle early Saturday morning. I wasn't amped about the idea initially, but what the hell, right?
There's a whole formal event with costume contests and even an organized walk on Sunday to raise money for charity, but being noobs we were just there to do two things: drink some beer and jump in the ocean so we'd have a story to tell.
The most memorable moment of the day could have happened before we even arrived at the plunge site located around the 40th Street promenade. Parking is pretty tough in the hours leading up to the 2:00 p.m. jump off, so we had to park about 15 blocks away and take a nice walk on a beautiful day.
Once we were about 5 blocks from the event, we heard a burly man hanging over a deck balcony with a red solo cup in his hand screaming into his cell phone.
"I can't walk up there. I'm too drunk!"
This was shortly after 12:00 noon and hours before the plunge was even set to start. It pretty much a perfect summation of the day.
Prior to jumping into the ocean with temperatures in the low 40s, you want to get your body nice and warm. My preferred method of choice was a couple of Yuenglings and a shot of tequila at the Ocean Drive (The OD), a bar resembling a football field's worth of a basement. The plan worked like a charm as my experience of jumping into frigid water proved to be rather fun and enjoyable.
I will admit, however, to standing on the beach surrounded by what seemed like tens of thousands of people, wondering to myself what exactly in the hell were we doing there. (As for the actual attendance, we have no idea, but the guy at the registration booth told us that they had already given out the 4,000 t-shirts they ordered so were were out of luck there.)
Some people hesitated, dilly-dallying, etc. But it seems like you just have to pull the band aid off and go right for the full submersion. It was cold but it wasn't nearly as cold as I'd thought it would be. We were treated to one of the warmer February days at the shore in ages. I hung out in the water for a good 30-45 seconds before heading back in. The view from the water of the throngs of people on the beach was wild.
After jumping in the water and doing a quick switch out of wet clothes into something fashionable like sweatpants, we hit up the OD for some celebrating. Being first timers, we weren't sure what kind of scene to expect at a bar 2 blocks off the beach in February. So after a few celebratory beers, we headed back to our hotel to clean up and put on something that would impress the classy women of Sea Isle. The problem with this plan was that when we returned to the bars around 6:00-6:30 p.m. it was like a zombie convention. It appeared as if nobody else had taken a quick "break" to shower up and get their act together before a long night.
Our first stop was the Springfield Inn and I can 100% assuredly say I've never seen a place full of so many sloppy drunk people. The guy who checked our IDs at the door told us they were closing at 8:00 p.m. which made no sense to us at all? But after about five minutes in the joint it was pretty clear why they wanted to close so early on such a busy day for them. The place was a madhouse.
We didn't think there was any way to catch up with these people. A couple of guys in bathrobes were working the dance floor pretty hard before a guy who could only be described as a 300-pound man you'd see tripping his face off at a Grateful Dead concert tried to steal the show.
The crowning event of the evening was, however, a bar-clearing brawl started over an argument about very important things. The thing about the brawl that was so damn entertaining was the fact that there were only about seven or eight bouncers while there were about fifteen or so combatants. It wasn't one of those throw a couple punches and dudes get separated type fights, punches were thrown, people were tossed, bouncers were in headlocks, more punches were thrown, shirts were pulled off. It was nuts.
We were also treated to the rare sight of seeing a guy's head used to open a couple of doors while in mid-headlock on his way of getting kicked out. You've always got to respect a bouncer who takes his cues from Robert De Niro in Casino.
This all went down at some point around 7:00 p.m. We probably hit up four or five more bars, drank for another five or six hours, and woke up on Sunday feeling like we'd just finished competing in an Iron Man competition.
But we all had our wallets. Only one of us lost a credit card and only one lost a cellphone. Pretty good Sunday breakfast at Uncle Bill's Pancake House and that's a weekend at the shore for you.
Hopefully it's like 20 degrees colder next year.
Here's a 360 panorama I took while in the ocean. Click to scroll:
And here's high-quality footage of us jumping in the ocean. Video by Going to the Shore: