Hundreds in N.J. welcome New Year with frigid plunge into Atlantic Ocean

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Participants of the 2020 polar bear plunge in Margate, NJ  run to the ocean on Wednesday, January 1, 2020. (Miguel Martinez for WHYY)

Participants of the 2020 polar bear plunge in Margate, NJ run to the ocean on Wednesday, January 1, 2020. (Miguel Martinez for WHYY)

Before the plunge, Margate beachgoers chattered with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.

“What a day!” Brendan Bradley, 62, exclaimed under sunny skies that made the low-40s temperature feel warmer. “I can’t wait to get wet.”

Seven-year-old Quinn O’Neill wasn’t so sure.

“The water’s cold!” he said. “I’m going to freeze!”

Then the clock struck noon, and hundreds of people darted into the Atlantic Ocean in what has become a New Year’s Day tradition up and down the Jersey Shore.

Similar events in Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Ocean City give families across the region a chance to start the year with an ice-cold jolt.

“One of the great things about doing this is you pretty much wash away 2019. 2020 is a whole new year,” said Deanna Glose, 47, of Harleysville, Pa. “It’s absolutely exhilarating.”

In Margate, this year’s plunge was the 26th edition, according to Robert’s Place, the local bar credited with starting the event.

Participants of the the 2020 polar bear plunge in Margate, NJ come out of the water after jumping in on Wednesday, January 1, 2020. (Miguel Martinez for WHYY)

“It was a bunch of guys sitting around on New Year’s Day,” said Bill Bradley, Brendan’s brother, explaining the event’s origins. “[One] said, ‘I dare you to go in the water.’ And the other guy said, ‘I’ll take that dare.’”

From those humble origins, the event has grown into a full-day party, with thousands of people tailgating from pick-up trucks and lugging all kinds of frills to the water’s edge.

Fred Thomas, 55, of Absecon, was sipping a tall drink at the edge of a portable bonfire while listening to smooth jazz.

“It kind of goes with the vibe,” he said of Boney James’ mellow saxophone.

Some people have very specific reasons why they take part in the plunge. Donna Pulini, 65, said she had been coming to the event for decades, but this year was her first time jumping in.

“My mother passed away in September. She was a lifelong resident of Margate. I’m going to jump in the water for her,” she said, her voice filled with emotion.

Teddy Costa run with a flag in front of the crow during the 2020 polar bear plunge in Margate, NJ on Wednesday, January 1, 2020. (Miguel Martinez for WHYY)

Others, like Teddy Costa of Philadelphia, who shirtlessly waved an American flag up and down the beach before noon, said they do it just because they can.

“Why not?” he said. “There’s no logical reason to do it. And that makes all the more reason for every single person going in.”

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