Taking The (Polar Bear) Plunge

Sometimes it’s smart to do something stupid.

Taking The Polar Bear Plunge Featured
Sometimes it’s smart to do something stupid.

I stood on a freezing beach in January in my swim trunks, beginning to regret my decision. The night before was New Year’s Eve and amidst the reverie, a friend of mine floated an idea: “We should do the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge!”

Now, I’m no daredevil, but I get along well with champagne, and in the spirit of the holiday I think I said something like “HAHA YES THAT IS THE BEST IDEA I’VE EVER HEARD!” But post-champagne me wasn’t quite so enthusiastic when reality set in the next morning.

We got to the beach and I resignedly shelled out the $25 that gave me the privilege of being allowed to jump into the 40-degree Atlantic Ocean. I was also forced to sign a personal injury waiver and, in case you didn’t know, nothing makes a cautious guy like me more nervous than a personal injury waiver — especially when there is an ominous ambulance ominously waiting in the wings.

It had never crossed my mind that sand gets cold. Like really, really cold. So of course my toes went numb from standing around barefoot because I took my shoes off early like an idiot. I stared out at the gray waves rolling in and began to question my sanity, but I knew I had made a commitment and needed to see it through. Even if that meant losing a toe or two.

I, along with my three friends, joined the other lunatics in attendance when they finally started lining up for the main event. Together we faced the ocean, awaiting our fate. My nerves, surprisingly, melted away, and a giddy excitement coursed through the crowd. Someone shouted “Go!” and all of a sudden I was running and whooping and bracing myself for shock. Icy surf splashed up and felt like it was slicing through my calves and thighs. In my peripheral vision I saw other people diving in, so I stupidly followed suit.

“Dive” may be an overstatement of the chest flop I executed. My legs simply decided not to cooperate in these conditions and that was that. With that sort of cold, I didn’t have time to think about style points, either.

Finally I shot back up through the waves, completely disoriented, and staggered back towards the beach, falling into the bone-chilling water two or three more times en route because my legs responded only when they felt like it. Someone had hit the reset button in my brain and by the time I started to get my bearings, I was wrapped in a towel holding a cup of clam chowder in front of barrel fire.

Before that plunge, I couldn’t remember a New Year’s Day where I felt like doing anything beyond nurse my hangover. Now, it’s been my ritual for the past five years. Adrenaline is more than just a way of getting amped up—it’s a reminder of what’s fun. And scary. Hell, I don’t even need resolutions anymore, because I know the ocean will be there, year after year, waiting to give me the only kick in the ass I need.