Sensible people battled Wednesday’s cold and the unrelenting frigid winds blowing off Northport Bay by piling on layers and bundling up.
Then there was Adam Silverstein, a senior at LIU Post, who rang in 2020 by strutting around Steers Beach wearing nothing but a bathing suit before the 11th Annual Northport New Year’s Day Polar Plunge, organized by Boy Scout Troop 410.
“It is so much fun, it makes you feel alive,” said the 21-year-old Northport native, who participated in his sixth Steers Beach polar plunge. “When that chill hits you, it's such a rush. It is exhilarating.”
Silverstein and about 150 other brave souls stripped down and dashed into the chilly, choppy waters of Northport Bay to raise money for the Ecumenical Lay Council Food Pantry. Scoutmaster Tim Sangirardi said the troop expected to raise about $5,500 for the pantry through pledges, donations and T-shirt sales.
“It is so great to see the community come out like this for such a worthy cause,” Sangirardi said. “A hundred to 150 Northport families use the food pantry every week.”
On Long Island's East End, scores of revelers dashed into freezing waters during the East Hampton Polar Plunge to benefit the East Hampton Food Pantry. The hardy souls who participated in a polar plunge at Gurney's Montauk Resort raised money for the Retreat, a domestic violence program based in East Hampton. In Wainscott, polar plungers raised funds for the Sag Harbor Food Pantry.
Most of the participants at Steers Beach sipped hot drinks in a nearby pavilion or around a roaring bonfire before the plunge began, and even the Beach Boys tunes that blasted from speakers on the beach couldn’t warm things up. The temperature at noon was 37 degrees, but the stiff winds made it feel much colder. The water temperature at noon was a relatively balmy 40 degrees.
“This is always a blast,” said Chris Bolitho, a junior at Northport High School and Troop 410’s Scout patrol leader. “You have to get your hair wet or it doesn’t count.”
Only two people participated in the crazy costume contest held before the polar plunge. Rick Leonard of Northport, dressed in a gorilla suit, appeared to be a lock to win the contest, but a woman wearing a dress made out of a beach towel won the crowd over by announcing that not only was it her 80th birthday, but that she was going to take the plunge into the chilly waters, too.
Leonard seemed upbeat, even in defeat. He said he came to support his son Karl, a member of Troop 410 who recently became an Eagle Scout, and to support his community.
“It’s amazing how much people enjoy coming to this event every year,” Leonard said. “We love the fact that Northport really supports this.”
When Northport Mayor Damon McMullen gave the signal for participants to plunge into the water just after noon, dozens of people took off T-shirts and dropped bathrobes and dashed into the water. Screams briefly muffled the sound of the waves slapping the rocky beach. Some people ran in as deep as their knees, while others, such as Lauren Thompson of Northport, dunked their entire bodies.
“I’m not even cold right now,” said Thompson’s friend Ayla Lerner, also of Northport. “I can’t even feel my legs.”
Most polar plunge participants ran back to the bonfire or the pavilion to warm up after their brief dips, but Silverstein continued to parade around the beach without a coat — or even a shirt — long after he exited the grayish-green water.
“It just gets better and better each year,” Silverstein said after finally ducking into the pavilion to warm up, a broad smile across his face.
“I always love when people find fun and creative ways to raise money for a good cause,” he added. “It’s a great way for all of us to come together and do something that is a whole lot of fun and a little bit crazy.”
Silverstein’s father, Larry Silverstein, hovered nearby, proudly shooting video of his ice cube of a son. His presence raised a question: What kind of a parent lets his child run into frigid waters on a cold winter day?
“An awesome one,” the younger Silverstein said, putting his arm on his father’s shoulder.