PROVINCETOWN — Bright sunshine and nearly warm weather greeted those who gathered at the beach below the Johnson Street parking lot in Provincetown on New Year’s Day to partake in the annual Polar Bear Plunge. By 11:30 a.m. there were already several hundred people gathered on the beach, some dressed as sharks or penguins, others in light drag. Many people decided to forego swimsuits and simply stripped down to their underwear.
“I’m expecting a lot of screaming,” said Jennifer Damarco, a local veterinary worker, making her first plunge. She was also planning on making a wish as she dipped in the water. “I’m wishing for a strong Provincetown community in 2023,” she said, “especially for all the dogs and cats out there.”
Jack Mungovan, a New Yorker surrounded by skeptical family members with whom he’d been celebrating the holidays in Sandwich, was already looking beyond his first plunge to next year’s event. “These guys bet me that I wouldn’t run into the water wearing a pink bikini,” he said, “so I went to Walmart and got this pink bikini, and now I’m ready to do it easy peasy. I think this could be an annual thing. I’m going to wish for mental health.”
“I’m expecting my heart to keep pumping and that I’ll be able to stand back up and get out,” said Linda Harper, who, along with her friend Terrence Cairns, was delighted by the sunny weather.
“My friends are making me do it,” said Richard Cook, a strapping young man from Boston, while the comfortably clad friends cackled beside him. “It’s going to be cold. I’m not ready, but it’s for a good cause, right?”
At the stroke of noon, the daredevils rushed into the water, while the crowd on the sand raised their iPhones to take pictures and shouted encouragement. Many dogs barked, as well, presumably in support of their humans. A round of applause rose as the bathers almost immediately ran back up to dry land, most of them smiling. Four members of the Provincetown Fire Dept. looked on with their arms folded.
The sixth annual plunge was co-sponsored by the Center for Coastal Studies, the Harbor Lounge, Yolqueria, Mezzeterranean, and 8 Dyer Hotel. The $60 registration fee covered a T-shirt, a donation to the Center for Coastal Studies, and a copious amount of pride. Music was provided by DJ Chris Racine. The event raised a record $17,000 for the CCS, according to Bryan Legare, who manages the research program on sharks at the center and originated the plunge. The previous record was $8,000, he said.
Robert O’Donnell, a local real estate agent, emerged from the water with an air of triumph after his debut plunge. “It was the perfect temperature for a virgin,” he said.
As the revelers dried themselves off, Legare emerged from his own plunge. “We exceeded all our expectations,” he said. “It was a record turnout, well over 200 registrations, and everyone seems really happy and ready for chili and cocktails at the Harbor Lounge.”