By Donald Wittkowski
Brutally cold weather has prompted Ocean City to cancel the First Dip celebration that usually features thousands of madcap bathers welcoming the New Year with a frigid plunge in the ocean.
With the New Year’s Day forecast calling for a high of just 20 degrees and winds gusting up to 20 mph, city officials decided it would be too dangerous to allow anyone to jump in the water.
“It’s just too cold,” Mayor Jay Gillian said. “With the wind chill, it could be dangerous.”
Gillian announced the event had been canceled while speaking during the City Council meeting Thursday. He said the decision was made after his administration and a committee overseeing the city’s First Night holiday celebration consulted with public safety officials.
First Dip was supposed to be one of the centerpieces of a citywide celebration expected to attract thousands of visitors to town for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Over the years, the ocean plunge has evolved into one of the wackiest New Year’s Day rituals at the Jersey Shore. Many of the bathers dress up in outlandish costumes or wear skimpy swimming suits while jumping into the chilly ocean waters to celebrate the New Year.
The 2017 version attracted thousands of diehards who braved the 42.8-degree ocean temperature. Sunny skies and a mild air temperature of 54 degrees helped produce a big turnout last year.
Gillian said the cancellation of 2018’s First Dip should not hurt tourism because thousands of visitors are already in town for a weekend-long holiday celebration, known collectively as First Night.
“I think people are already here. They’ve been here,” he said.
For a $20 admission button, First Night includes more than 75 shows and family-friendly entertainment at venues throughout Ocean City during an alcohol-free celebration from 4 p.m. to midnight on New Year’s Eve. A midnight fireworks display will add to the excitement of ringing in 2018.
The mayor said he expects a complete sellout of all 10,000 First Night admission buttons that are available to the public.
“It still will be a fun event,” Gillian said of the holiday celebration, despite the cancellation of the First Dip.
One of the highlights of First Night will be an opportunity to visit the newly restored Ocean City Life-Saving Station at the intersection of Fourth Street and Atlantic Avenue. The historic building has been transformed into a museum that recaptures its heyday as a lifeguard station in the early 1900s.
“When you go in there, it’s almost like walking back in time,” Gillian said.
The holiday celebration will continue on New Year’s Day. Although the First Dip event has been scrubbed, the festivities will still include a 5-kilometer run beginning 1 p.m. on the Boardwalk and an all-day Shopping Extravaganza at stores downtown.