By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Every February, thousands of self-styled “polar bears” descend on Sea Isle City for a madcap and frosty dip in the ocean.
The Polar Bear Plunge is the centerpiece of a weekend-long celebration of partying, dining and shopping that awakens the shore town from its winter hibernation and reinvigorates the local economy.
However, in 2020 there will be a significant change in the time that the plunge and a wacky costume contest that traditionally precedes it will be held.
Usually, the plungers charge into the chilly surf at 2 p.m., but on Saturday, Feb. 15, the start time will be a full three hours earlier.
Sea Isle spokeswoman Katherine Custer said the decision was made to hold the 2020 plunge at 11 a.m. to help with crowd control.
“Traditionally, it was held at 2 p.m. By that part of the day, the town is a lot more crowded,” Custer said.
In addition, the colorful Polar Bear costume contest that serves as a zany prelude to the plunge will be held much earlier – at 9 a.m. on Feb. 15 – instead of its traditional noontime start, Custer said.
The costume party is held at the LaCosta Lounge, which serves as the epicenter for the privately run Polar Bear Plunge partying and entertainment.
By starting things earlier, it will give the tens of thousands of visitors who are expected to be in Sea Isle more time to enjoy the post-plunge festivities throughout town, Custer said.
“I think it’s easy to say that there will be a big turnout for all of the plunge events, no matter what time they’re held,” she said.
Entering its 26th year, the plunge has grown into a wildly popular spectacle and a blockbuster for the local economy. In 2020, Polar Bear Plunge Weekend will be held Feb. 14-16 over Presidents Day weekend.
“We see people rolling into town for Polar Bear Weekend beginning on Thursday,” Custer said of the visitors who arrive early.
Many of Sea Isle’s businesses, normally closed for the winter, reopen just for the celebration. The timing of the Polar Bear Plunge with the Presidents Day weekend allows the town to capitalize on the extended holiday weekend.
The weekend culminates with the Mike’s Seafood Polar Bear Run-Walk for Autism created by restaurateur Mike Monichetti and his family. Monichetti owns Mike’s Seafood & Dock Restaurant in Sea Isle.
The run-walk raises money each year for autism awareness, advocacy and family services. In 2020, it will be held Sunday, Feb. 16, at noon, the event’s normal time.