SEA ISLE CITY - It was a typical summer Saturday here: The downtown was packed, there was no place to park and the beach was filled with people in bathing suits.
Except it was not a summer. It was the middle of February, the temperature hovered around 40 degrees, and a bone-chilling winter drizzle was falling.
The resort was filled with thousands of people for the 20th annual Polar Bear Plunge, a raucous event that has turned into perhaps the city's biggest winter festival. Visitors streamed through downtown streets singing and yelling. Men hooted at women, who hooted right back. Red plastic cups filled with adult beverages were everywhere.
They were heading for the beach at John F. Kennedy Boulevard, where they lined the Promenade to watch several hundred people make the mad dash into a bitterly cold Atlantic Ocean.
There were individuals ready to take the plunge. There also were teams, including the Where's Waldos, a group of men impersonating William Wallace from the movie "Braveheart," and some guys with plungers stuck on their heads.
Anneyva Hidlay of Bloomsburg, Pa., was dressed in her Hawaiian hula outfit, complete with what she stressed were real coconut halves that were covering parts of her anatomy. There was purpose behind her outfit.
"If you're dressed like you're in Hawaii, you'll feel warm like you're in Hawaii," she said.
Morgan Sprenkle, 27, of Hatboro, Pa., was part of the Where's Waldos and said this was the kind of event needed to relieve what has been a too-cold and too-snowy winter.
"This is just fun," she said.
The plunge was to begin at 2 p.m., but a sort of uncoordinated cheering began at 1:50 p.m., followed by a dash of frenzied people - including two wizards, one Santa Claus, a few men in evening gowns, some patriotic folks wrapped in American flags and kids dressed as candy bars - into the surf.
Less than five minutes later, everyone was heading in the opposite direction, scampering back to the beach for blankets, clothes, hats, shoes and anything else that would help them get warm.
"Why did I do this?" Cherry Hill, Camden County, resident Jay Mitchelson shouted over and over as he stood shivering on the cold sand.
This was his first plunge. When asked if he would do it again, Mitchelson shouted, "No."
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