Around Town

Polar Plunges: More Than Just a Crazy Dare

A first-time polar plunger emerges from the water with a fresh perspective for a new year

So Rhode Island Magazine ·

It could have been worse. It could have been snowing, temperatures could have been hugging close to zero, rabid polar bears could have been making brunch out of us while we waited. There are plenty of ways things could have been worse, but still, it was New Year’s Day and there we were, standing on the beach in our bathing suits with temperatures in the relatively comfortable upper 30s, waiting to voluntarily jump into the Atlantic Ocean which, let’s face it, is never even that warm in the summer time.

The New Year’s Day plunge is a common tradition, and one that I had always lumped in the “not on your life” category. I’m a proud wimp and not much of a morning person, never mind the fact that most New Year’s Days begin with a significant headache and the first regret of the year. But this year I was committed to trying new things. How better to do that than with the heavily metaphorical cleansing/rebirth of a symbolic swim.

My wife and one of my co-workers opted for the Frozen Clam Obstaplunge at Goddard Park State Beach, which was held to benefit The Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership. The “Obsta” stands for obstacle course, as in we had the choice of either jumping into the water like regular crazy people or running a half-mile, parkour style obstacle course straight out of an army movie training montage and then jump into the water like especially crazy crazy people. My list of new things to experience in the new year didn’t include getting dragged off the beach with most of my bones broken – again, huge wimp – but kudos to the warriors who hurdled over walls, combat crawled through tubes and bounded through an alternating rows of slanted walls like they were Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. They were true ninjas, every single one of them.

Us non-Obstaplungers had to wait until the first runners cleared the obstacle course and hit the icy waves. A loudspeaker blasted a playlist made up entirely of song with titles that took on an ironic significance for the occasion – “Cold As Ice” by Foreigner, “Crazy” by Seal – while announcers got the crowd psyched up and ran commentary on the obstacle course. Standing on the beach with my feet caked in the cold, wet sand (protip: don’t do this thing barefoot!) was probably the most uncomfortable part of the whole experience.

Finally the first obstacle runners splashed down and we were clear to make our plunge. Wild screams, giddy and horrified, masked the sounds of cold bodies hitting cold water.

There are four phases to your body’s response to a polar plunge. The first is the initial shock when your feet hit the water, which passes quickly. The second phase, which happens once you’re waist deep is, for obvious reasons, the one that most makes you want to turn back and run screaming for shelter. Fighting through that urge will lead you to phase three, when you dive beneath the waves and feel like your chest is either going to collapse or explode or both – you’ll want to scream here, but the prospect of drowning is a strong deterrent. Finally, you breach, unleash a primal howl, and feel surprisingly rejuvenated. I experienced all of these phases, and found myself energized and eager to face 2016 head on.

At the risk of sounding overly New Age-y there is something oddly spiritual about submerging yourself in the cold, Atlantic waters. Probably because it’s not something people do outside of these “double dog dare you” kind of occasions. January 1 is a perfect time to do it because like I said, it’s pretty heavily symbolic of a clean start. But here’s the thing; there’s still plenty of ill-advised days of swimming left this winter. If you’re feeling like you’re running out of steam on your resolutions, or maybe just feeling like you need some kind of jolt in your life, throw on your trunks, go to the beach and dive in. Any day of the year can be the first day of something new.

Frozen Clam Obstaplunge, Goddard Park State Beach, polar plunge, new year's day, new year's resolutions, atlantic ocean, january 1, new years, polar swim, penguin plunge, dare, the matrix, seal, foreigner, cold as ice foreigner, so rhode island, hey rhody, tony pacitti, The Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership