Below-freezing temperatures didn’t stop East Hampton residents from taking a quick and frigid dip into the waves at Main Beach for the 17th annual Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day. More than 200 people ventured to the sand dunes for the event and helped raise money for the East Hampton Food Pantry.
Jennifer Carter-Campbell and her daughter, Caroline, 13, were just two of the many that darted from the shoreline to wrap themselves up in towels, teeth chattering along the way. For Jennifer, this was her sixth time taking the plunge, and for Caroline, her second.
“We always do this because it’s for a good cause,” Jennifer said. “We went in together as a family and it’s a good way to kick off the New Year.”
Although the duo only stays in East Hampton on the weekends, the area is like home to them, and the plunge has become a family tradition through the years. Caroline said she decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps last January, while the rest of her siblings watched from the shore with hot chocolate.
“I just really like doing this,” Caroline said. “It’s always so much fun!”
With temperatures hitting only 14 degrees on the South Fork, officials said they were a bit surprised to see the large turnout.
Darius Narizzano, a member of the East Hampton Food Pantry executive board, said the plunge is a crucial event because it raises the most money for the pantry, which feeds more than 20,000 local people, 7,000 of which are children.
“Most people think of East Hampton as a beautiful and affluent area to live in – which it is,” he said. “But there is still a huge need from an entire other side of town, that a lot of people don’t see.”
Narizzano is also a real estate agent for the firm Saunders & Associates, which sponsored the event and distributed hats and goody bags to plungers.
“The pantry especially helps elderly people and locals who have been priced out of the area,” Narizzano added. “Without this helping hand, they might not make it through the winter months.”
The East Hampton Ocean Rescue team also brought in the new year at the plunge, assisting participants and their furry companions. The Hampton Lifeguard Association set up bonfires and manned tents filled with doughnuts and hot chocolate for the post-plunge party.
“It’s amazing because the air is super cold but the water doesn’t feel that cold,” Carter-Campbell said. “As long as you get bundled up afterwards, you’re fine. It actually sort of creates this incredibly warm feeling throughout your entire body – I guess that’s what hypothermia feels like,” she added with a laugh.
The event raised $20,000 for the food pantry last year, officials noted.
“This community is super-connected to the ocean,” Jennifer said. “So it’s a fun thing to do as a group and a good way to push yourself and complete a crazy challenge. It’s all for a good cause.”