MagazineJanuary 2011How To: Survive a Polar Bear Plunge

How To: Survive a Polar Bear Plunge

Jumping into the ocean during the dead of winter may sound crazy, but every winter, some 3,000 nuts do that very thing at the Virginia Beach Polar Plunge, a charity event that benefits the Special Olympics. Smaller polar plunges can be found throughout the region all winter, but Virginia Beach draws the biggest, most interesting crowd (half the participants are in costume). Last year, 2,200 people braved the record low temperatures (30 degree water) as snow blanketed the Mid Atlantic, and 2011 marks the 19th edition of the Virginia Beach Polar Plunge. We talked with Jim McDevitt, founder of the Virginia Beach Polar Plunge about how to survive 30-degree water when you’re dressed up like Batman.

Get out there ahead of time to acclimate. That’ll make the transition into the water less abrupt.

The most uncomfortable thing will actually be the cold sand on your feet, so water shoes are key.

Running in and out of the ocean with 3,000 people can actually be dangerous. Take your time, and don’t dive.

It’s a fundraiser, so there are no hard and fast rules about how to plunge. If you want to go into your ankles and turn around, that’s fine. If you want to fully submerge, that’s fine too.

No wetsuits. That’s the only real rule because wetsuits are cheating. Costumes are customary and there’s an award for the best costume.

Ask the Expert:
When I ski, I sweat. When I sit on the lift, I freeze. How do I keep the freeze/thaw cycle from ruining my day on the slopes?
Simple layering is the best method. Light layers next to the skin, a medium thickness on top of that and a waterproof shell with vapor protection. That first layer is key, and should be synthetic or wool to wick moisture away from your body. And use your zippers. Unzip your jacket a little while you’re skiing to let the heat out, then zip up again when on the lift to keep the heat in. It sounds simple, but that’s the easiest way to manage moisture and heat on the slopes.
–Steve Kuller, head ski patrol for Massanutten Mountain Resort

Plan your own Polar Plunge
Safety First: Never plunge alone, and have dry clothes and hot chocolate, hot tea, or just hot water on hand afterward.
Get Naked: You’ll actually get warmer faster if you don’t have to spend time stripping off wet clothes after the plunge.
Go Under: Going up to your waist is half assed, literally.
Time it Right: January 1 is the traditional day of polar plunges, but we have our biggest snowstorms in February. If there is snow on the ground and you have to cut a hole in an icy lake, you get bonus points.
Benefits: Sure, a polar plunge automatically makes you bad-ass, but there may be health benefits too. Cold water is thought to stimulate the nervous system and even boost the immune system, and has been part of Chinese medicine for centuries. In the U.S., elite athletes often use ice plunges to recover faster after hard workouts.


Find out how Will survived his Polar Plunge!

Places to Go, Things to See: