SEASIDE HEIGHTS – Despite the gray skies and rainy weather, thousands of people flocked to the Seaside Boardwalk on Saturday, Feb. 24 for the annual Polar Bear Plunge.
Each year, the Polar Bear Plunge at Seaside Heights challenges thousands of men and women from around the state to brave the cold. “It’s a great way for everyone – individuals, teams, organizations and businesses – to get involved in supporting Special Olympics New Jersey,” stated the Special Olympics New Jersey (SONJ) website.
This year was special as it marked the 25th anniversary of the Plunge in the county, bringing in nearly 7,000 brave plungers and 15,000-20,000 attendees at the event, according to Jeremy Davis of the SONJ. The plunge is hosted by the SONJ foundation and the proceeds from sales benefit SONJ programs. This year, the event raised over $2 million, said Davis. This is even more than last year’s $1.9 million.
The plunge was presented by the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics New Jersey and sponsored by the New Jersey State PBA, according to SONJ. There were more than 6,400 plungers pre-registered this year and each of those individuals was required to raise a minimum of $100 to plunge.
This was only one of three Polar Bear Plunges held each year for SONJ. There are also polar plunge events held in Wildwood and Asbury Park, according to Davis.
The day began at 9 a.m. as registered plungers, friends, and family began to arrive. By 1 p.m., the time of the official plunge, the boardwalk was completely crowded.
Participants wore everything from bathing suits to wetsuits to crazy costumes and hats, bringing an air of fun and originality to the event. Some wore just regular suits, and some were decked out in patriotic gear, Viking helmets, and even ninja turtle onesies.
The boardwalk was packed with people, grabbing a bite, having a drink, and lining the railings facing the beach to get a glimpse of the hundreds of people jumping into the frigid waters.
There were cheers and yells coming from every direction as onlookers watched the plungers dive into the waves. The beach was restricted access for plunge participants only, yet was still swarmed with thousands of people formed into a massive crowd awaiting their turns to take a dip.
Seaside Heights Police and security at the event lined the shore signaling people to dive in, a few at a time. NJ State Police were also present with boats anchored right offshore and helicopters flying overhead. Swimmers were only permitted to go a short distance into the water, according to Davis, to help control the amount of people in the ocean and keep everyone safe.
In addition to Seaside and State police, there were also members of the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department, local fire departments, and EMTs present at the event. The police and security presence was strong to help maintain order and safety among the tens of thousands of people walking the boardwalk and diving in the water.
“It’s quite an undertaking,” said Davis.