Taking the plunge for juniors

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log
The Destin Log

Some did it for the adrenaline rush, while others participated out of tradition, but when all was said and done, it was for a good cause.

For the 14th consecutive year, more than 100 folks took a dip in the Gulf of Mexico on New Year’s Day as part of the Polar Plunge at Henderson Beach State Park in Destin.

“I think it’s record-breaking,” said Joe D’Agostino, Beach Safety Chief for the Destin Fire District, noting the people gathered on the beach Wednesday morning.

“It’s going to be another fun jump into the Gulf on New Year’s Day,” D’Agostino said as the crowd gathered.

Why the Polar Plunge?

“We do this because it benefits the junior lifeguard program,” D’Agostino said.

“Any time we can save our local parents some money getting the kids involved and educated in the water, we love to do so,” he explained.

Prior to Wednesday morning, 73 individuals had pre-registered for the event. But on D-Day (Dip-Day), there were more than 200 people gathered, with 104 actually taking the plunge.

“We kind of exceeded our expectations,” D’Agostino said.

Not only did they have a great crowd gathered to watch, but the participants were ready and willing to take that dip in the 62-degree Gulf of Mexico.

Destin’s Tiffany Hall, dressed like a bumblebee, was ready to go with a smile on her face.

“I did it a few years ago ... it was much colder,” Hall said.

On Wednesday, the sun was shining and the temperature was 59 degrees.

However, Hall was there because she got invited and said, “Why not?”

Hall was there along with the Grinch (Jamie Jacobs) and Santa (Allyson Jacobs).

The Jacobses of Niceville have done a polar plunge on New Year’s at the FloraBama in years past, but not in Destin.

So why do the one in Destin this year?

“He was off work,” Allyson said with a smile on her face.

The oldest participant and winner of a gift basket was 82-year-old Tom Ballasch of Destin.

Ballasch was quick to say he did a plunge last year in Puget Sound, which was much colder.

Ballasch had two reasons for doing the plunge. One was the chance to do it with his son, Tom. And, he said, “I’m an adrenaline junkie like the rest of my family.”

The most unusual costumes of the day were worn by a group of ladies from Niceville. They were holding clear umbrellas with streamers attached, and calling themselves jellyfish. Last year, they dressed up as penguins.

The plunge was scheduled to take place at 11 a.m., but folks didn’t take to the water until about 11:15 a.m. because of the big crowd.

After about a 40-yard walk out into the Gulf, folks were getting about waist deep.

Once back on the beach, they took a group photo to mark the start of a new year.