By MADDY VITALE
Some dressed in business suits and toted briefcases. Some wore dresses and high heels. Others opted for costumes. There was a pirate, a mermaid, and a giant French fry guy, to name a few.
They made the slow procession into the ocean at the Ninth Street beach in Ocean City on Friday at the start of the Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kickoff to the busy summer season.
The pirate blew on his conch shell, signifying it was time to march. All the while, Pomp and Circumstance played, courtesy of the Ocean City High School Band. And so began the Business Persons Plunge.
You can’t make this stuff up. Hundreds watched in amusement and amazement at the popular spectacle.
Call it what you will – wacky, silly, clever or crazy. But whatever you think, for Ocean City residents, visitors, and business owners, the Business Persons Plunge, which immediately followed the official “Unlocking of the Ocean,” heralds in what promises to be a robust tourism season.
The entourage of plungers marched into the brisk water and splashed in the surf in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Business Persons Plunge. A banner plane flew overhead to applause and cheers.
Longtime event organizer and promoter John Walton, a realtor and Ocean City resident, said after the plunge that he loves the event more and more each year.
“Like all of the years, there’s this excitement and the fun and smiles on the peoples’ faces,” Walton said. “It’s just the elation. It is sort of like a party. It is quick and unpredictable, but long planned and always fun.”
Walton was at the helm, as he is every year, wearing his Italian-brand Trussini business suit that he bought in 1996 for about $1,500.
Walton carried his American flag in one hand, and his rusted-shut briefcase in the other.
He said that this year, more than in prior years, there were many new businesses involved with the plunge. There were also more merchants whose kids got into the spirit.
“When you see teens dress up, whose parents are the merchants or entrepreneurs, you know this event has got legs for hopefully 100 more years. I want people 100 years from now to look back at this and go, ‘What the heck were they doing?’” Walton said with a laugh. “It’s a one-of-a-kind thing and it wouldn’t be possible without the support of the mayor and the city.”
Ocean City realtor Paul Logue held up his realtor sign in one hand and his spear in the other while costumed as King Neptune. He wore a muscle shirt – literally a flesh-colored shirt with a decal of fake muscles on it, and a long, flowing white wig.
“I’m excited,” he said of the summer season. “I’m thrilled to welcome back all of our seasonal visitors.”
Before the plunge, Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian, officials in his administration, City Council members, local historian Fred Miller, business owner Bob Harbaugh, pageant queens and others helped to “unlock” the ocean.
They used a large wooden ceremonial key and did the countdown to “unlock” the ocean, as crowds watched from the beach and along the railing of the Music Pier.
“I want to welcome everybody to Ocean City. We are going to have a spectacular year,” Gillian said to the crowd.
He thanked Walton for 20 great years as the organizer of the Business Persons Plunge.
Gillian also gave a shout-out to the Ocean City Beach Patrol, his city team, City Council and the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce for all of their hard work.
Gillian then spoke of the holiday weekend and the upcoming summer season.
“Please pay attention. Stay safe. We are going to have a spectacular summer here in Ocean City,” he said. “There are a lot of new and exciting things all over from the beach to the bay, tip to tip as I always say.”
In addition to 20 years of the popular Business Persons Plunge, there was another Ocean City milestone. This is the 125th year anniversary of the Ocean City Beach Patrol.
Members and alumni were on hand to share information about the history of the patrol. Rescue craft representing different eras of the OCBP were also on display.
Among the other participants at Friday’s event were the local Boy Scouts who gave out flags, the Marine Corps Color Guard and a host of other groups and organizations.
Mayor’s Aide Michael Allegretto emceed the “Unlocking of the Ocean” and former Miss New Jersey Volunteer Natalie Ragazzo, of Ocean City, sang the national anthem.
In the morning, the city held its daily Boardwalk flag-raising ceremony.