Winter Ocean Plunge: Recap

polar plunge

One of BostonSOS' earliest spectacles was a surreal "beach celebration" on the subway back in 2008, when dozens of us dressed up in hula skirts, cabanawear and sunscreen, then rode the Blue Line to the North Shore beaches in the middle of March. We slathered on sunscreen, handed out leis, held limbo competitions, basked in the "sun," and otherwise ignored the fact that it was winter in New England...and that we were, umm, yeah, on the subway.

Fast forward to February 2011 - almost exactly three years later - and there we were again: in bathing suits and sunglasses, riding a Wonderland-bound train on a frigid winter morning, towels in hand and visions of the beach in our heads. Only this time, winter hats replaced sunscreen; scarves replaced leis; and on this biting, 37-degree winter day, we were actually going swimming in the freakin' Atlantic Ocean.

olympic torchIt was for a good cause, of course. Participants were encouraged to raise money for the honor of plunging into the icy deep (remind me again why we didn't just have a bake sale?), and all proceeds went to the Special Olympics of Massachusetts. BostonSOS formed Team Irish Wristwatch (try saying that three times fast) and geared up for an icy February dip.

marching bandWhen we arrived, the beach was already hopping with a few hundred folks...some in outrageous costumes, others with body paint, some just dressed "normally" in swimsuits. A marching band provided the ambience, free food was available, and a large olympic torch provided the centerpiece to remind us all of why we were about to tempt hypothermia.

As the oversized clock wound down to zero hour, we began to gingerly disrobe (didn't we just do this on the Boston No Pants subway ride back in January?!), and whether it was real or our imaginations, it felt as if the wind had chosen just that moment to pick up. Brrrr!

Now, if you've never taken your clothes off in the middle of winter on the beach in New England, let me describe the progression of sensations: first, a large chill plunges through your body as the exposed chest and limbs. Your pinkened fingers start to tingle and you get the feeling you won't have any use of them for the next several hours. More on that later.

Finally, the shoes come off. Ho.ly.Crap. Mind you, we're still on the sand at this point, but a large strip of snow between us and the ocean seemed to mock our numbening toes.

Nevertheless, the energy was palpable and the adrenaline was surging, so somehow we were able to convince ourselves that it wouldn't be that bad...right? Nearby, an announcer assured us that the water was actually warmer than the air that day. Ha! While probably true, such words mean nothing when you're facing imminent hydro-freezing.

05_swimSo finally the countdown begins, and before we know it, we're running headlong into the water. Now, you know that certain...*ahem*...portion of your body (different across genders, I presume) that really lets you know the water temperature? Didn't even notice this time. My entire body had long since gone numb; in shock.

Just as soon as we were in, we heard a loud announcement from the loudspeaker: "okay, that's enough. Everyone out of the water." What? After all this? Time to get out? I guess they were worried about some hypothermi-something-or-other. Needless to say, they didn't need to ask us twice, and just like that, it was over.

Then the thawing began. Slowly. Have you ever gone in a hot tub in the winter, then rolled around in the snow, then jumped back in just so it would feel so warm and cozy, only to find out that it stung like needles? It was like that, but graaaaadual.

But we made it; we're alive, and we're warm...of course, by now I've probably convinced everyone that winter swimming is a horrible, deadly experience, but in a sense I'd say it's just the opposite. Well, at least once in your lifetime anyway. I think all of us were super glad we had done it and challenged ourselves...it was truly a bona fide adventure. And that's what it's all about, right?


Some Frigid Photos:

His Majesty, ready to go!
I'm ready!
Members of Team Irish Wristwatch start disrobing...
Disrobing Commences
...as others prepare by the sidelines.
On the sidelines
And we're off!
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Into the water...
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Run Away! Run away!
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"We did it!"
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"Holy crap, that's cold."
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Catwoman
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Struttin' his "stuff"
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They actually had a chicken coop set up so those who were too afraid to go in the water could hang out and watch (get it? Too chicken to swim?).
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Nothing says winter in New England than some beach volleyball.
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"No! Bad truck! This event is for humans only."
Disrobing Commences