Several hundred brave frigid waters for polar plunges

dburley@islandpacket.comJanuary 1, 2014 

It wasn't Coney Island Polar Bear Club-cold, but several hundred swimmers rang in the new year by braving frigid waters Wednesday in Beaufort County.

About 150 people sprinted into chilly ocean water at Coligny Beach Park for the Hilton Head Polar Plunge. Many more waited on shore with umbrellas, Dunkin' Donuts hot chocolate and heavy blankets for the plungers, some of whom barely dunked their kneecaps before turning back for warmth.

The air temperature was 53 degrees when swimmers entered the water at 11 a.m. Ocean temperatures weren't much different, with estimates in the low 50s.

Tim Brophy, who plunged with eight family members, said the water seemed even colder.

"I think it was the rain," he said of the gray weather. "And the sandbar was a killer. You have to run through a gully before you even hit the water."

This was Brophy's fourth year conquering the icy-feeling water. It has become a holiday tradition, he said.

"It's fun to start the year doing something crazy together with family," said Brophy, his face red with cold.

Melissa Lewis and her 6-year-old daughter, Madison, endured the water for the second consecutive year. This time, however, Madison went in only to her waist before reversing course.

"Last year, she was the first one in and the last one out," Lewis said. "I think the rain had something to do with it this year."

Lewis didn't seem to mind the cold, however.

"I'm originally from Boston, so this isn't bad," she said. "You go in there and it numbs you. I like it. It feels like I start the new year washing away the negativity."

Two hours later, at Hunting Island State Park, another 200 or so ocean-goers in bathing suits defied chilly water for the sixth annual Pelican Plunge. A few hundred more stayed dry on the beach east of Beaufort.

The turnout was smaller than in 2013, when about 800 people took the plunge, but organizer Dick Geier said he was happy with the crowd, considering the dreary weather and the University of South Carolina's bowl game on TV.

Wednesday's Plunge benefited the Discover Carolina program, which sends local students in third, fifth and seventh grades to the park for a day of learning.

Geier, president of Friends of Hunting Island, said a little more than $3,500 was raised.

He was among those who took a dip in the bitterly cold water.

"The water was colder than the air temperature, I can personally attest," he said. "I dashed in, did my thing and got out."

Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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