Number of Polar Bear Plungers Surges

Three times as many as last year did the Polar Bear Plunge at East Hampton’s Main Beach. Durell Godfrey

Three times as many as last year did the Polar Bear Plunge at East Hampton Village’s Main Beach on New Year’s Day, one of the balmiest New Year’s Days, if not the balmiest, that anyone could remember.

“The weather was perfect, just as John Ryan Sr. predicted,” said Vicki Littman, the East Hampton Food Pantry’s chairwoman. “We had more than 400 plunge, a record, and there were hundreds of spectators as well.” 

As to how much had been raised to be shared among the food pantries in East Hampton, Wainscott, Springs, and Amagansett, Ms. Littman said she didn’t know offhand, though, obviously, the proceeds would far exceed the $10,000 raised last year, which was one of the worst-ever plunging-wise given the frigid temperatures of the water (37 degrees) and air (18 degrees). 

This time, said John Ryan Jr., who captains the town’s lifeguards, the water was 43 degrees, and — most important — the air was 57. The heat of the sun, he said, was what made the difference. 

There were broad smiles on the faces of those exiting the surf rather than Munchian looks of horror, as has often been the case in the past, and many stayed on to pass the time of day rather than dash off to towels and the parking lot.

John Ryan Sr., who, at 83, claimed to have one year on his fellow plunger, East Hampton Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., said someone had stolen his traditional head gear, a plunger, “but Scott Barter bought one at Village Hardware and gave it to me.”

It was the 17th year for the Main Beach plunge, whose official starter was Joan Tulp, and the 20th in Colin Mather’s case. 

Mr. Mather, who owns the Seafood Shop in Wainscott, a believer in the salutary effects of cold showers, and of cold water in general, began running the 1.6 miles from his shop on Montauk Highway to Wainscott’s Beach Lane road end at the turn of the last century, in the company initially of Larry Burns and Richard Klamrogh. 

Phoenix House and L’Arche Long Island have been beneficiaries of his in the past, though this year, he said, the money raised — $1,635, on top of the $6,000 contributed by his shop’s customers in the fall — would go to help one of his former employees, Claudia Ghetu, a resident of Southern California now, who is hospitalized with cancer. While L’Arche Long Island, which provides housing for the mentally ill, was certainly worthy, Ms. Ghetu’s need was great, he said. 

“She worked for me in the ’80s — she painted that fish whose outline you can still see in the front window,” Mr. Mather said as he waited, in the company of his sons, Jack, 11, and Joel, 9, and their 13-year-old cousin, Judah D’Andrea, for his fellow runners, Wayne Duncan, Bob Abramson, Matthew Davis, and Maxwell Cohen among them, to show up. There was a sign on the shop’s door that said, “Closed at 1 p.m. — gone swimming.”

Mr. Duncan, whom Mr. Abramson cited as the Hampton Jitney’s best driver, said he had plunged with Mr. Mather last year, though he and Mr. Abramson recalled that by mid-November they had begun dreading the prospect. 

“The air temperature last year was 19 degrees,” said Mr. Duncan. “But, today, God bless. Today we are blessed.”

Mr. Mather’s sons had run all the way and had plunged in as well, he said later in the day, and the large puddle that spanned Beach Lane’s road end hadn’t proved to be the hindrance that he had feared it would be on viewing it that morning. “Either the plungers got through it on the backs of pickup trucks or they took their shoes off, as we did, and waded through it. It didn’t stop us.”

Mr. Mather said he thought there may have been upward of 75 plungers at Beach Lane, perhaps 100. Gurney’s Resort in Montauk estimated that there had been a like number of plungers there, in a benefit for the Retreat, the domestic violence shelter in East Hampton. So, townwide, it was probably a record turnout.

“I felt like we were cheating,” Mr. Mather said, with a laugh. “It was too easy. . . . I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and say it’s a wonderful way to start the year this way.”

Durell Godfrey
The air was warm, but the water was bracing. Durell Godfrey and Craig Macnaughton
Pajamas, a fur coat and tiara, and plungers in hand, this crew was ready.Durell Godfrey
Air 57, water 43, but that did not deter Pat Sullivan, left, and John Ryan Sr., right.Durell Godfrey
There were broad smiles on the faces of those exiting the surf rather than Munchian looks of horror, as has often been the case in the past.Durell Godfrey
Mr. Mather, who owns the Seafood Shop in Wainscott, a believer in the salutary effects of cold showers, and of cold water in general, began running the 1.6 miles from his shop on Montauk Highway to Wainscott’s Beach Lane road end at the turn of the last century.Jack Graves
Members of East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue, who helped to keep plungers safe.Durell Godfrey
A member of East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue tossed roses into the ocean in memory of Ben and Bonnie Krupinski and their grandson, William Maerov, who died in a plane crash in June. Durell Godfrey