For some, the New Year is a time for new beginnings and resolutions, and for others, it’s a time of celebration and reflection on the year passed. But for a daring percentage of the population, New Year’s means one thing: finding the nearest beach and jumping into the water.
Events like the Polar Bear and Penguin Plunge have been annual traditions at Newport and Jamestown beaches for many years, but on the first day of 2012, daredevils will have the chance to get chilly in Warwick waters.
The first ever Frozen Clam will take place at noon on Sunday at Goddard Park. The plunge will benefit the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership, and about 25 people are expected to don their suits and take to the waters.
Ryan McGowan, who has been mentoring with the partnership since March, spearheaded the event.
McGowan has been launching himself into the icy brine off of Newport since 2004, but this year he wanted to do it closer to home. Around Thanksgiving, he brought the idea to the Mentoring Partnership, and the event gelled from there.
The Frozen Clam will include the dash to the water, hot chocolate and coffee provided by the Deli on Post, raffle items from a half dozen local businesses and an ice sculpture of – what else – a clam, by Art in Ice.
Down at Oakland Beach, another hundred or so people will charge into Greenwich Bay.
The fourth annual Seawall Splash to benefit the Oakland Beach Carousel Foundation will also happen at noon on Sunday.
George Shuster has been partaking in the event since its inception, and has made the Seawall Splash a family affair.
His daughter, Greta, has been plunging since she was 5, and Shuster’s youngest, Georgia, participated last year at age 4. The sisters, now 8 and 5 respectively, will make a splash again this year. Stephanie, Shuster’s wife and mother of Greta and Georgia, will join the rest of her family on this, her second Seawall Splash.
Registration for both of the events is free, but donations will be accepted from spectators and swimmers alike.
Money from the Seawall Splash will help offset the cost to reconstruct the Oakland Beach Carousel.
Doreen Kosciusko, president of the Oakland Beach Carousel Foundation, said the money will go toward materials for the horses and rent for the workshop. So far, volunteers have carved 16 horses, but they need at least 24 to finish the carousel. They also need money to construct the carousel itself, a project that has not been started.
Shuster said volunteers have been tirelessly carving horses in their free time.
“They’re very persistent,” he said.
Shuster is a big fan of the carousel project, and thinks it’s a great cause to support.
“It’s a project by local people using their hands to make something for other local people,” he said.
Koscuisko said about 60 people took the plunge last year, and she hopes for even more this year. All registered participants will receive a free kazoo, and Kosciusko is looking to create an impromptu kazoo band before the plunge on Sunday.
Costumes are encouraged, and certificates will be awarded to the best-dressed swimmer. The oldest and youngest participants will also be honored.
Those who make a $50 donation will receive a gift bag filled with things like gift certificates for Marley’s and Iggy’s restaurants.
“Last year, after expenses, we raised $2,000,” she said. “This year we’re hoping for $5,000.”
Jo-Ann Schofield, senior vice president of the RI Mentoring Partnership, hopes the Frozen Clam will generate around $1,000 for her organization.
Schofield plans to take the dunk on Sunday.
“I don’t know why really,” she laughed. “I hear you have to put your head under. I’m going to run in, dunk my head and run out.”
Tim Forsberg, office coordinator at the Mentoring Partnership, will also participate.
“I did a 13-mile half-marathon [for RIMP],” he said, “but I’m more scared about this.”
Kosciusko, who has participated in the Seawall Spalsh all four years, said the worst part is the anticipation.
“That’s the hardest part is standing on the beach looking at the water,” she said. “This year we have a couple of things in our favor, like the high tide. Last year it was dead low, so we had farther to run.”
Once out of the water, Kosciusko said the sensation of cold air on wet skin isn’t as terrible as one might think.
“You think you’re going to be frozen, but you’re not,” Kosciusko said.
Experienced “plungers,” like Shuster, said it’s “quite fun” to brave the chilly waters, but the unseasonably warm temperatures may actually work against swimmers this year.
“When it’s really cold outside, the water can actually feel warm,” he said. “And when it’s warmer outside, like 40 degrees, that’s when it actually feels the worst because the water feels so cold. I’m hoping for a very cold New Year’s Day so the water will feel warm and it’ll be less painful.”
So why do these daring swimmers insist on doing this every year?
“It’s extremely invigorating,” said McGowan. “It’s not painful. It’s worth the discomfort. We have a motto: two to three minutes of discomfort for a year of glory.”
McGowan said the chill is worth the year of bragging rights.
For first-timers who would like to try the Frozen Clam or Seawall Splash this year, McGowan had this advice:
“Make sure you have someone waiting for you on the beach with a towel or robe, and make sure you know exactly where they’re going to be.”
McGowan recalled his first plunge, when he walked out of the water and searched the beach for his towel.
“It felt like an eternity,” he said.
More information on the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership can be found at www.mentorri.org; visit www.OaklandBeachCarousel.org for more information on the foundation and Seawall Splash 2012.