8 Polar Plunges in New Jersey

Polar plunges in the icy Atlantic Ocean have become beloved, annual fundraising events for New Jerseyans with big hearts—and thick skins.

Participants of a polar bear plunge in Wildwood
Hundreds of New Jerseyans sport their swimsuits in Wildwood each January to plunge into the icy ocean. Photo: Courtesy of Michael Toscano/Polar Bear Plunge

Winter may be the off-season at the Jersey Shore, but that doesn’t stop thousands of people from spending a day on the beach every January or February. Polar plunges in the icy Atlantic Ocean have become beloved, annual fundraising events for New Jerseyans with big hearts—and thick skins. 

Like a charity run, participants can register individually or as a team, all with a fundraising goal. The only difference? Everyone here is wearing bathing suits or costumes and is dashing into the chilly water instead of along a trail. 

Special Olympics New Jersey, a nonprofit that gives children and adults with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to train and compete in 24 different sports for free, hosts the largest events in the Garden State, known as the Polar Bear Plunges, in Seaside Heights and Wildwood. Families like the Tobins of Brick Township, who describe their annual dive as “another Christmas Day,” have participated for 14 years and counting. 

Colin Tobin is one of 22,000 Special Olympic athletes supported by events like these. Colin, who has Down syndrome, trains and competes year-round in soccer, basketball, and track, and a large group of his family and friends take the annual plunge in Seaside Heights with his team, CAT Crew. In 14 years, they have raised just under $600,000.

“It’s really just the idea of bringing people together that kind of takes the sting or the edge off of what you’re about to do,” says Colin’s mother, Kelli. “I can’t really put into words what the atmosphere there on plunge day [is like]. There’s just so many people, and it’s just such an excitement for [Colin’s dad] Chris and I, knowing that all of these people are coming together in support of our family and, especially, Colin.” 

MORE WINTER FUN:
Join NJ’s Curling Craze
Quirky Places to Go Ice-Skating
Yes, There’s Dog Sledding in NJ: ‘It’s a Lifestyle’
Where to Cross-Country Ski in NJ
Beat the Cold with Cozy Indoor Activities

 

January 2024 cover of New Jersey Monthly magazine

Buy our January 2024 issue here. Cover photo: Ronald Gray

New Jerseys Polar Bear Plunges have been taking place for more than three decades, beginning in 1993 at Point Pleasant Beach. They soon shifted to Seaside Heights, as the crowd outgrew the size of the original location. A second, smaller plunge began in Wildwood in 2006, and continues to host hundreds of participants each January. 

In 2023, more than 7,500 plungers on 567 teams raised $2.6 million at the Seaside Heights event. In Wildwood, nearly  900 plungers gathered in 2023, raising over $281,000. 

To register for either event, each plunger must meet the required minimum fundraising goal. 

If plunging into the ocean in the middle of winter isnt your thing, you can show support by cheering from the shoreline or making a donation. However, dedicated plungers believe everyone should try it out. 

“Once you do it once, you’ll always look forward to going back year after year,”says Rob Sickles of Milltown, a Seaside Heights plunger of 20 years “It’s just an all-around great feeling, like you’re doing a good deed for the world.”  

UPCOMING POLAR PLUNGES

MONDAY, JANUARY 1

Sons of Ireland Polar Bear Plunge • Long Branch

The event fundraises for No Limits Cafe in Red Bank, which employs adults with intellectual disabilities, and Shore House in Long Branch, which supports adults with mental illness.

Brigantine Polar Bears Million Dollar Milestone Plunge • Brigantine 

This plunge benefits wounded members of the military and their families through the Fisher House Foundation. 

Atlantic City Polar Bear Plunge • Atlantic City

This plunge benefits the Cancer Support Community New Jersey at Gilda’s Club.

1st Day at the Beach • Ocean City

A fun, non-charitable plunge with a 5k on the boardwalk an hour before.

SATURDAY, JANUARY 13

Polar Bear Plunge • Wildwood

Proceeds benefit Special Olympics New Jersey athletes.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 3

Sea Girt Polar Plunge • Sea Girt

Proceeds benefit the L.I.F.T. Fund for Veterans at Habitat for Humanity.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 10

Valentine Plunge • Manasquan

Feel the love at this Valentine’s event, which benefits ALS patients. Read about the couple who got engaged at last year’s event here.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 24

Polar Bear Plunge • Seaside Heights

Special Olympics New Jersey’s biggest Polar Bear Plunge fills Seaside Heights with thousands of plungers. Proceeds benefit the athletes.


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