On New Year’s Day a year ago, Tybee Island was cold and rainy. Still, that didn’t stop about a thousand people from lining up four and five deep to take the Polar Bear Plunge into the frigid Atlantic, celebrating the arrival of 2010.
For 2011’s new and improved Polar Bear Plunge –– a charity event now beginning its second decade –– over 100 people have already preregistered at the website at www.tybeepolarplunge.com.
“And we usually get at least four times the amount of preregistered people registering the morning of New Year’s Day,” says event organizer Don Ernst.
Ernst says the event continues to grow, with attendees this year coming from as far away as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Kansas to ring in the New Year on Tybee Island and cap it all off with a bracing swim in the ocean.
For Ernst the real fun is watching the diverse array of eccentric characters who show up every year, many in whimsical costumes.
“We have a mummer that comes all dressed up in his costume every year and brings his whole family,” Ernst says. “At the end of the day my cheeks hurt from smiling so much at everybody having so much fun.”
The Polar Bear Plunge this year will raise funds for the The Forty & Eight, an invitation–only veterans organization that draws from groups like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The organization will use the funds raised from the plunge for nursing scholarships. “AASU and South University are the two local schools that offer medical training,” says Ernst. “Last year we were able to provide four $1,000 scholarships to local nursing students.”
As last year’s Plunge featured actual registration –– rather than just a loosely organized free–for–all –– there was some grumbling.
However, there is no attempt made at exclusive use of the Atlantic Ocean.
“We cannot stop people getting in the water without registering,” assures Ernst. “The people who do register will have their own area, and will be the ones that get the TV coverage.”
And of course, they’ll get a chance to help the local community with their contribution.
Tybee Polar Bear Plunge
When: Noon New Year’s Day; pre–registration begins 9:30 a.m.