By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
The traditional Polar Bear Plunge won’t be held in Sea Isle City over the Presidents Day weekend this year, but there still could be unofficial mini versions of the madcap chilly dip in the ocean.
As a precaution, police and lifeguard crews will patrol the beaches during the holiday weekend to respond to any emergencies that may occur if someone takes an impromptu plunge.
“We’ll be prepared to respond to emergencies if needed,” said Capt. Anthony Garreffi, the officer in charge of the Sea Isle Police Department.
Garreffi noted that it is not illegal for people to jump into the ocean – even if it’s in the dead of winter.
But the police and lifeguard crews will be able to rush to anyone’s aid if they get in trouble while plunging in the frigid surf.
“We’re all set,” Garreffi said. “We’re prepared for whatever may or may not happen.”
Garreffi said he has not yet heard of anyone or any groups planning to take a plunge over the holiday weekend Feb. 19-21. Posts circulating on social media suggest that people will be out on Saturday, Feb. 19, to jump into the water. The Saturday of Presidents Day weekend is traditionally when the official Polar Bear Plunge would be held.
Although dips in the ocean are not illegal, police will be prepared to cite anyone who may be drinking alcoholic beverages on the beaches or in other public areas, Garreffi noted.
“Open containers of alcoholic beverages are illegal,” he said.
In years past, thousands of self-styled polar bears, dressed only in bathing suits or outlandish costumes, would rush into the frosty surf during the headline event of Sea Isle’s Presidents Day weekend celebration of partying, dining and shopping.
Although Polar Bear Plunge weekend has been Sea Isle’s signature winter attraction for 25 years, a new city policy no longer allows privately run events such as the plunge to be held on public streets, parking lots and municipal property.
When it enacted the policy in September, the city cited the strain that private events put on the police department and Public Works crews when they were held on public property. Potential liability lawsuits being filed against the city were another reason for the new policy.
What happened during Presidents Day weekend in 2021 may provide a sneak peek of what to expect this year. The Polar Bear Plunge was canceled in 2021 because of the pandemic, but small groups of diehards still took to the water for their own wacky celebrations during what was a chilly, rainy and blustery day.
With the plunge not being held this year, the business community has come up with the idea for the “Presidents Day Weekend Festival.” Essentially, it will be an assortment of entertainment and special events held at bars, restaurants and shops around town.
Mayor Leonard Desiderio and local business owners are predicting that the plunge-less holiday weekend will still be busy.
“Even though there won’t be a Polar Bear Plunge during Presidents Weekend, there are still many good reasons to be in Sea Isle City between February 18th and 21st,” Desiderio said in a statement. “During that weekend, many local businesses will be open and ready to welcome patrons, including our local retailers, restaurants and other establishments – so get ready to shop-until-you-drop, dine-in-style, and dance-the-night-away here in Sea Isle City during Presidents Weekend.”
The holiday weekend mega-celebration traditionally awakens the shore town from its winter hibernation and reinvigorates the local economy.