By MADDY VITALE and DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Santa Claus was there. Spiderman was there. And yes, a few “polar bears,” too.
Revelers in Ocean City filled the Eighth Street beach on a mild New Year’s Day to take the “First Plunge” in the ocean in a wacky and wildly popular tradition to herald in the New Year.
Hundreds of plungers lined up, shed some clothing, jackets and the like to charge into the 41-degree water in bathing suits, shorts and in costumes.
“We are here to celebrate the New Year. And a new beginning means jumping in the ocean,” said Mary Whylings, of Audubon, N.J. “The kids are having a ball. It feels like summer.”
Whylings and her family even dressed for the festive occasion.
She wore a New Year’s Eve headband and big plastic 2023 glasses. Her grandson, Caleb Whylings, 9, wore a polar bear hat, while his 11-year-old brother, Dylan, wore a hat and faux spectacles. His friend, Chase Quinn, also got into the spirit, donning a purple hat and 2023 glasses.
The idea to do the plunge came from another relative, Jake Sturgis, also of Audubon.
“This is our first plunge. I guess we are real rookie plungers,” he said.
Sturgis, whose parents, Kenneth and Carol Sturgis, also came along for the fun, had a specific request of his family members.
“It’s too cold to go in a little. I said we have to go totally under,” Jake Sturgis said of the plunge.
Ocean City’s First Plunge is a holiday tradition that tops the zaniest of traditions at the Jersey Shore.
And each year, the tradition turns the typically quiet beaches in the offseason into a frantic and hilarious party scene.
Comical and colorful costumes worn by some of the plungers added to the wacky atmosphere.
David Finamore wore a flowing white beard while dressed as Santa Claus. His wife, Catarina, played the part of Mrs. Claus.
“It was just a little spur-of-the moment thing. I had it lying around the house,” Finamore explained of his Santa costume.
The Finamores, of Gloucester Township, N.J., were participating in the New Year’s Day plunge for the second time. Their 15-year-old son, Vinny, joined them dressed in a Spiderman costume. Vinny’s friends, twins Jack and Gavin Feinberg, were dressed as Spiderman and Winnie the Pooh.
David Finamore noted that for his first Ocean City plunge, he was decked out in a shocking pink floral Hawaiian shirt.
“I like to mix it up a little bit,” he said with a laugh about his zany costumes.
Nolan Campbell, 10, didn’t wear a costume for the plunge. Instead, he jumped in all the way while bare-chested and in a bathing suit. He had the shivers after he emerged from the chilly surf and stood on the beach.
“It feels like 30 degrees. It was quite cold,” Nolan said.
Nolan, who lives in Havertown, Pa., joined the Clevenger family of Ocean City for the plunge. Parents Jan and Wyatt Clevenger brought their children, Alana, 13, Ava, 11, and Wyatt Jr., 8. Wyatt Clevenger is an Ocean City firefighter.
Jan Clevenger said the family had a blast, despite the chilly water temperature.
“It was fun,” she said. “We made a plan 15 minutes ago. We said, ‘Don’t think about. Just do it.’”
And they did.
The weather with sun-splashed skies and temperatures hovering around 60, was a pleasant change from the night before, when a thick fog blanketed the region and rain came down off and on throughout the afternoon and evening.
“It’s all about the weather,” Mayor Jay Gillian said, before taking down the ropes for the final countdown for plungers to take their dip.
He continued, “The town is jumping. This is always a popular family event and with the temperature around 60 degrees, the New Year is starting off great.”
There were mixed reviews, however, by the bold who made the run into the chilly water.
“It was cold, and I’m glad I did it, but I’m glad it is over with,” Brendan Smith, 15, of Ocean City, said with a chuckle.
Irena Yermak, of Basking Ridge, N.J., toweled off and said, “It was not as bad as I thought it would be.”
For Robin Shaffer, of Ocean City, a newly elected Board of Education member, the plunge meant a needed cool off.
He ran in the city’s New Year’s Day 5K race an hour earlier.
“It was so refreshing and energizing,” Shaffer said. “2023 will be the most awesome year.”