BRRRR-inging in the new year: More than 100 take Polar Bear Plunge

Tina Harbuck | The Log
Destin's Carrie Plaiser throws her arms up in victory as she makes it out of the water in the her first-ever Polar Bear Plunge. "It wasn't that bad," Plaiser said.

Some came sporting funny hats and T-shirts, while others showed up in bath robes and blankets — however the hats and blankets all came off before the 101 participants took the plunge in the Destin Fire Rescue Foundation's 2014 Polar Bear Plunge behind the Crab Trap at James Lee Park on New Year's morning.

"I've never done anything like this," said Destin's Carrie Plaiser. "I've never entered the water in the cold. It has to be like bath water for me to get in."

Nevertheless, she took the plunge into the 60 degree Gulf of Mexico on Jan. 1, 2014.

Barbara Brown of Niceville along with Sara Brown of Hershey, Penn., came walking up wearing penguin hats. They also had T-shirts made for the occasion.

"I wanted to do it last year," Barbara said. "But I chickened out."

However, both the Browns were ready to go Tuesday — but how far was questionable.

"More than a toe, but less than a head," Sara said.

Bo VannAtter of Niceville recently moved to the area from New York where he's watched folks take the plunge at Coney Island in much cooler temperatures for years. A couple of years ago, when he was just visiting the area, he did the Polar Bear Plunge and liked it. Now that he's a resident he made the dip into the water to start the New Year.

For Pat Ballasch, who works at DAG Architecture and lives in Niceville, it's a New Year's tradition.

"I've done it every year," Ballasch said. And this year, Ballasch who was sporting a shark hat, made the rest of his family join in the fun.

Joining Ballasch in the plunge was his 76-year-old father Tom and 72-year-old mother Betty.

"I've always wanted to do it," Tom said, noting that the idea might be a bit crazy. But he was all in: Before Tom hit the water, he lay down in the sand and made a sand angel.

At 10:30 a.m., the brave participants gathered for a group photo before taking the plunge.

Then Beach Safety Chief Joe D'Agostino counted down and they all went running toward the Gulf. Some went knee to waist deep while others went all in.

Not long after most were out of the water, about a dozen folks walked up wanting to do the plunge. They had gotten the time wrong for the event. D'Agostino gave them the opportunity to do the plunge as well. At 11 o'clock he lined them up and they headed with gusto toward the Gulf.

With the final count in, 101 folks took the plunge into the frigid water.

"It was my fourth time to do it," said Bob Jarvis. "We do it for fun and for the firefighters."

Proceeds from the event go toward the Destin Junior Lifeguards.

And there's no need to ask if the Polar Bear Plunge will take place next Jan. 1.

"Don't call … we're doing it," said D'Agostino, who took the plunge himself as well. "Rain, snow or sideways, we're doing it."