With her baby teeth-chattering through her wide smile, 4-year-old Harper Moody is all smiles on the first day of 2013, where she's just taken part in her third Polar Bear Plunge.
Moody's Grandpa, Bob Jarvis, of Rhode Island, said that he and his granddaughter have been taking the plunge in Destin together every year — and now it's become a holiday tradition of sorts for the two of them.
Hosted by the Destin Fire Rescue Foundation for each of its eight years, this year’s plunge shook things up a bit, with Paddle Destin joining the action — adding paddle boarding as an alternative to jumping directly into the chilly gulf — making it Destin's first Polar Bear Plunge & Paddle event.
As friends, family and curious crowds looked on, more than 60 people stormed the water behind The Crab Trap on New Year's Day to raise money to provide scholarships for the Junior Lifeguard Program.
Joe D’Agostino, beach safety chief in Destin and junior lifeguard instructor, has been part of the chilly, January tradition for six years now.
"Compared to some of the previous years, this year is pretty mild; we're lucky," said D’Agostino of the roughly 65-degree day.
This annual New Year's Day tradition draws locals and tourists alike — with familiar faces coming from as far away as Georgia, Minnesota and Rhode Island.
Fifteen year old Heath Taylor of LaGrange, Ga., has spent the past six Christmas holidays in Destin with his family — and he has taken the plunge all six years.
"It's not that bad; it's actually pretty fun once you get in the water," said a shivering Taylor, who was joined this year by his friend, 14-year-old Steven Curtis, a first-time plunger.
Trina McCullough of Crestview is another first-timer, who shared her pre-plunge experience with The Log.
"There's polar bear etiquette; there are rules," said McCullough. "The rules state that you must go completely under the water, submerging your entire body, including your head — so you can feel the pain," she added, as she removed the knitted chicken hat she had been sporting prior to taking the dip.
Martha Gisselquist of Minnesota isn't there to make a splash on the first day of the calendar, she's there to support her sister-in-law, who's taking part in her first-time plunge in Destin.
"I got my feet wet, and it’s too cold for me — it's nothing like a heated swimming pool," Gisselquist joked.
Held yearly at The Crab Trap, Destin's Polar Bear Plunge & Paddle is not a race, it's a fun event for the entire family, with the proceeds going to a good cause.
To learn more about this event visit the Destin Fire Rescue Foundation and Paddle Destin on Facebook.