The Mast-Head: Fast Into the Ocean

The boasting rights would be worth it, he seemed to think

Until this year, I had never taken part in the annual Polar Bear Plunge at Main Beach, thinking, as a year-round surfer, that going into the ocean without a wetsuit in January was a bad idea.

My son, Ellis, however, is of a competitive mind these days, and, what with his second-grade friends mostly somewhere warm over the holiday break, he thought he could one-up them by running, not into the warm Caribbean but into a near-freezing Atlantic. The boasting rights would be worth it, he seemed to think. In retrospect, with the air 18 degrees and the water 37, it might not have been the best year to give it a go.

Ellis was all right in the end, after a hot bath at home and getting under several blankets to watch YouTube in bed, but getting into the water and back out was something else. Waiting around before the event was perhaps the hardest part for us both. The west wind made it feel near zero, though he was able to sneak in close to a wood fire burning in a barrel to keep sort of warm. Soon it was time to line up. We stripped to our trunks, standing on a towel to keep our feet from the frozen-solid sand.

Someone blew the starting whistle. We ran. Ellis fell and was stepped on, by a teenager, he said. I helped him back up and asked if he wanted to go through with it. He did, and we ran for the water. 

A trough lay between the shoreline and the bar on which a small swell was breaking. Ellis shouted that he wanted to go all the way, and we did, plowing through what was for him chest-deep water. Because of our delayed start, we were about last out of the water and got a loud cheer from the crowd of spectators. 

Ellis was shivering and in tears under a heavy wool blanket, however, as I, still in my wet trunks, struggled to get him dressed. A volunteer suggested we head up to the Main Beach office to get him out of the wind, which was a good call. “I am never doing that again!” he cried through chattering teeth.

After 10 minutes or so draped over an electric space heater, Ellis was more or less fine again and saying that he might, just might, do it again on the first day of 2019.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in bed.