“We don’t call it Presidents Day Weekend, we call it Polar Bear Weekend” says Sea Isle City mayor Len Desiderio with a laugh. It’s not that Desiderio means any disrespect to Lincoln or Washington, but when you consider the number of people who are about to descend upon his town for the events that both surround and include its annual Polar Bear Plunge, you can understand why the presidents are playing second fiddle.
“At the end of every summer season you’ll hear folks saying, ‘We’ll be back for Polar Bear Weekend!’ And sure enough, they all come back” Desiderio says. “Some even plan it a year in advance. It’s turned into a tradition here in Sea Isle. Ninety percent of the businesses reopen and everybody has a great time. It’s a must attend event.”
And though it’s thrilling to witness thousands of people running full speed ahead into the frigid ocean, Sea Isle’s Polar Bear Weekend is so much more than that.
Polar Bear Weekend gets off to a rockin’ start as La Costa Lounge hosts the Polar Bear King and Queen Reunion from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, at La Costa’s deck bar. Though there will be no king or queen crowned this year, instead, previous recipients of these titles will be honored for their fundraising efforts with their very own party on Friday night. Live music for the party will be provided by The Insiders.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the weekend is the annual costume contest. Held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, under the big tent at LaCosta Lounge, the event kicks off the Saturday festivities in grand style. Unlike most costume contests, this one heavily features group-based costumes, so you can expect to see folks dressed up as anything from slices of pizza to flocks of seagulls or whatever else they may dream up. There are three categories for the contests — one for groups of 1-4 people, another for groups of 5-9, and finally, one for groups of 10 or more. Groups can register in person from 9-9:45 a.m.
The main event of Polar Bear Weekend is of course the Polar Bear Plunge, a thrilling and chaotic event that sees thousands of otherwise rational beach goers opt to jump into the ocean in the dead of winter. The plunge itself takes place at noon on Saturday, Feb. 15
“You can’t think about it, you just gotta do it,” says Dominick Chrissotimos, of Cliffside Park. This will be the sixth year that Chrissotimos has taken the plunge. He and his family own a home in Sea Isle and return each year for the event, but so far he is the only one in his group brave enough to actually jump in the water. “They all prefer to stay on the beach watching. They see me dive in and they think I am Superman or something. So just as a joke, I started wearing a Superman costume to the plunge. But trust me, I am NOT Superman. I’m just having fun,” he says with unwavering certainty.
Once everyone is all dried off and warmed up, it’s time for the parties to begin. Options are plentiful throughout town, with La Costa Lounge serving as ground zero. They will host bands throughout their complex and at various tents all day Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. and going until midnight. Live bands include Funzaluv, Split Decision, OK Otter, The Insiders, Mike Lecompt and The Rockets.
Down Landis Avenue a bit lies Kix McNutley’s, a popular bar/liquor store/lounge owned by Mayor Desiderio. And while the other bars in town host party bands, Kix offers something a bit unique — a live concert from Springsteen tribute band The E Street Shuffle, who will perform a full night of music, beginning at 9:30 p.m.
“The Polar Bear weekend is always a blast,” says E Street Shuffle keyboardist Dave Turner. It’s one of the few big events that takes place in the dead of winter, so we look forward to it each year. The show is packed, the crowd is full of energy and so is the band. It reminds us that summer is just around the corner.”
Perhaps the most important of all activities throughout the weekend is the annual Mike’s Seafood Run/Walk for Autism. A 5K run (or 1 mile family fun walk) beginning at noon at the Promenade at JFK Boulevard, the event — which features over 3,000 participants — is run by Mike Monichetti of Mike’s Seafood and raises funds for autism and special needs-based charities. Participants must register to race. Go to PolarBearRunWalkForAutism.com to register.
Adding to the Sunday fun is the 4th annual Cornhole Tournament. Beginning at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16, at La Costa Lounge, bean bags will begin flying as teams complete for three top prizes of $500, $250 and $150 respectively. Registration is $60 per team and all proceeds go to benefit autism and special needs charities. Live music will be provided by The Insiders and Mike LeCompt.