For those looking to start 2012 with a splash, Hunting Island will again hold its Pelican Plunge.
Friends of Hunting Island will sponsor the fourth annual event -- a local twist on the polar bear plunges held in colder climes -- Sunday at the state park at 1 p.m.
Participants will sprint down the beach in front of the lighthouse and go as far into the chilly ocean as they dare.
The Pelican Plunge moniker is appropriate not just for the Lowcountry flavor the name imparts, but also for the spectacle, park manager Jeff Atkins said.
"Anyone who has ever seen a pelican plunge into the water, that's about the grace we have as we plunge into the water," he said. "Not a lot of grace, but a lot of splash."
While the air temperature should be slightly warmer than in the past, that will make the cold water more shocking, Atkins said. The water was 57 degrees Thursday, Friends of Hunting Island board president Jonathan Greene said.
"There's obviously a shock factor when you jump into the water, but you're not pushing ice out of the way," he said.
Participation has tripled since the plunge began. About 300 swimmers dove in last year with at least that many cheering on the "crazies," Greene said.
He didn't know how many people to expect this year since the Hilton Head Polar Bear Plunge has been canceled because of an unusually high number of Portuguese men-of-war in the ocean.
Greene said plunge organizers are monitoring the waters at Hunting Island and haven't seen as many men-of-war as on Hilton Head Island. Emergency medical staff will be on hand for the event, he said.
Proceeds from the plunge go to Discover Carolina, a state parks education program that teaches students about biology, maritime forests, plants and animals, he said. Last year, the event raised about $5,000.
Registration is free and begins at noon Sunday. Participants are encouraged to raise pledges or make donations. Local schools and businesses are challenged to compete against each other in raising money.
A formal costume parade will precede the plunge. Some participants dress in outrageous costumes, Greene said, or play kazoos or "Simon says" before running into the surf.
All participants receive an "I Took the 2012 Plunge" sticker. T-shirts will be for sale at the park store.
"Beaufort is an exciting community ... people love to do things that are out of the box," Atkins said.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.