EVERY YEAR on New Year’s Day, at high noon, hundreds of shivering revelers storm into the Atlantic Ocean, all in the name of charity.
The Tybee Polar Plunge has been a tradition for quite some time. The Tybee Post Theatre took over the festivities in 2012, but Executive Director Melissa Turner estimates it had gone on for a dozen years prior.
“It was started by some guys that were with the American Legion post on Tybee, and the original one was just a probably crazy drunken dare on New Year’s Day,” laughs Turner.
Over the years, the drunken dare snowballed into a major tradition, complete with commemorative T-shirts, that benefited local Tybee charities. It became such a big deal that the original organizers decided to hand the reins to the Tybee Post.
“We average about 1,200 a year that actually sign up and plunge, and then there’s probably another 1,000 that come down to the pier and line the pier on both sides just to watch everybody jump in,” shares Turner. “They’re too chicken to do it themselves!”
Despite the name, the Polar Plunge is often anything but frigid. Most years average 50-60 degrees, which is still chilly for Southerners but pretty warm to others.
“We get people that come down here from Michigan or even Canada, and they say, ‘You call this a polar plunge? We call it a tropical plunge!’” says Turner. “There’s a lot of bravado from folks north of the Mason-Dixon Line to come down and say, ‘Oh, this is fine.’”
Of course, if the plunge does leave you shivering, you can throw on your custom long-sleeved event T-shirt and head to any one of the beachfront stores that sell hot chocolate or coffee to warm yourself up.
The Polar Plunge isn’t the only fun event happening on New Year’s Day. The Gang of Goofs Costume Parade begins the festivities that day.
“It’s where folks get together with three to six or more friends, and they come up with a theme for their costumes,” explains Turner, “and then they dress up in crazy costumes and parade before our panel of celebrity judges .They’re all competing for the great trophy that they get to display at the place of their choice on Tybee for a year.”
Proceeds from the Tybee Polar Plunge benefit the Tybee Post Theatre, which does important work in the community.
“We have almost 500 members now,” Turner says. “We keep very busy here. Our mission is to try to provide entertainment to all aspects of the community, and that means having a lot of variety but still targeting our loyal patron base. We’ll have something Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday most every week.”
Keep an eye on the Tybee Post calendar for special screenings of Oscar contenders and for a performance by Kansas City’s Late Night Theatre, the troupe who sold out every show last year when they did a drag parody of the Golden Girls.
But for now, the most fun to be had on Tybee is on the beach, bright and early, on New Year’s morning.
“It’s just so much fun now,” says Turner. “It’s got some regular people who come from all over, committed to doing that event every year. It’s huge fun and for those several hours there at the Tybee Pier and Pavilion, it’s just happy.”