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Polar bears endangered? Not at Tybee



Two Thousand and Seven, what a trip.  I’ve been around since 1953, so you can understand my seeming awe at the number. 

Tybee Island has a New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge every year. I’ve successfully managed to avoid it until now. I was supposed to work a side job, but it was called off.  No excuses this year -- the time had come for me to take the plunge.

 I love the ocean, as does Karen, my significant other. It was the scene of our first date over 16 years ago, and Tybee has meant so much to us ever since. When I told her I wanted to do this, she was supportive as long as she stayed dry. That was okay with me -- one fool per family is plenty.

Packed a cooler full of beer, you don’t think I’m doing this insane act without any false courage do you? Karen gave me a beach bag, which I filled with sneakers, socks, dry shirt, pants and a towel. We made the ride that we’ve made so often in the past, yet for some reason lately have seemed to lose our way.

Why? Geez, I just don’t know. Why do we get away from things that work for us? How do we forget the things that matter in a relationship? We both love the beach, and when we walk it, we find it seems to loosen our tongues and open our minds. 

Why? Geez, I don’t know, maybe it’s the exercise or the air, perhaps it’s the company, or maybe it’s the proximity to the end of the earth. I don’t know the cause, but I do know the effect. It’s good for us, and somehow we forget that. We forget how to talk to each other and we forget how to listen for each other. The beach reminds us; its memory is longer than ours.

Where were we? Oh yeah, Polar Bear Plunge Tybee Island New Years Day 2007. 

I pull into the lot of my buddy’s condominium project. Haven’t seen him in years but he’s an old friend, and I’m hunting a free parking spot. Tybee sucks when it comes to parking, not only will they gouge you, but they also seem to take particular pleasure in ticketing and towing, regardless of the economic impact of an event.

We’re out of the truck now, I pour me a double beer into a take out container, and Karen is my pack mule, toting my dry stuff.  Not two minutes later, I hear someone yelling our names. It’s a colleague from work with her beau and children, and it is a pleasure to hook up with them.

Truth be known, I’ve been experiencing quite a bit of trepidation over this whole thing since I foolishly committed myself.  Always thought I would be rescued by that side job that never materialized. No such luck.

Anyway, we get down to the beach and right off the bat, I see a couple of my friends.  That helps, because as we all know, misery loves company. 

There is a crowd of a few hundred people at least, many in costumes, and all having fun. There is also this nervous energy in the air; I think it is emanating from us “newbie’s”, those who have yet to taste the toe tingling Atlantic on New Years Day. The “been there done that” crowd of veterans seem so nonchalant.

It’s fun, it’s colorful, it’s a lot of humanity waiting for absurdity. Then there is a blare of a horn that catches most of us off guard, and a running, stumbling, tossing and turning into a turbulent ocean that wonders what the hell we think we are doing?

It is cold but not unbearable. I waste little time and race in (Why delay the inevitable?). As I go deeper, I watch a wave approach that I know will blow me away. I dive under it and lose my balance and my breath. An exhilarating experience that is as scary as it is stimulating.

I’m okay, I’m standing, and people are smiling around me. My legs are cold and numb, but still the cold is not unbearable.  I decide to dive back under, and it once again takes my breath away.  I hang around with a stupid smile and numb legs, giving and receiving high fives with my shivering neighbors.  I dive under again; lose my breath and finally my will to remain.

I’m on the shore now with a warm towel and a warm woman, and I’m enjoying the warmth of my friends. This afterglow takes my breath away in a much different way.


It is a brilliant start of a New Year, a literal cleansing and rebirth. Before my plunge, I had neither closure for year 2006 nor a resolution for 2007. I now had both.

I felt like the icy water had not only washed away 2006, but it also cleared my head and reminded me of the places, the people, and the one person that I love the most. The things that I cherish in my life, and cannot afford to forget.

I resolve to remember them all in year 2007.

Tom Parrish is a local freelance writer. To comment, e-mail us at



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