Don’t let the pictures fool you — the skies were blue and people were in their bathing suits, but it wasn’t a summer day at State Beach in Oak Bluffs. It was 8° with a wind chill making it feel like -22°, according to the National Weather Service, when the polar bear plunge participants stripped down and jumped into the water.
Many people wanted organizer Robert Baker, owner of Woodland Variety and Grill, to postpone or even cancel because of the dangerous weather, but in the spirit of helping out a good cause, they didn’t let the cold stop them.
“It makes you feel alive,” Justin Lucas of Vineyard Haven said. “It gives you the confidence to know that you can go and do something that you know is going to suck.” Mr. Lucas, who’s been participating in the plunge for five years, said, “As much as I’d like to stay at home and be warm in bed, it’s for a good cause.”
Mr. Baker started the polar bear plunge seven years ago. This year, by far, is the coldest it has been for the event, he said. “It started with a bunch of friends getting together on New Year’s Day and jumping in the water,” he said, “and over the years it developed as a way to give back to veterans and to raise money and awareness that they need to be taken care of.” Donations will go to Dukes County Veterans Association, as a way to keep the cause local.
“I’m cold already,” Rich Soohoo said, bundled up in his car before the plunge. “I’m cold just thinking about it.” This is Mr. Soohoo’s second year doing the plunge, and this year he’s better prepared. “The No. 1 thing is the shoes: You have to have shoes ready, it’s really important, and we weren’t aware of that last year,” Mr. Soohoo’s wife, Libby, said.
“I don’t know how smart it is, but it’s fun,” Mr. Soohoo said.
The process took a whole five minutes. Participants and their supporters trickled down to the snow-covered beach, posed for a quick group photo, undressed, and ran fearlessly into the water. Everyone on the beach watched in both horror and awe as the few brave souls went in. Some dove, some screamed, and some reluctantly walked in; but they all emerged energized and proud.