Now entering its 32nd year, Delaware’s famed Polar Bear Plunge takes place on February 4th, 2024. The Plunge benefits Special Olympics Delaware, which provides year-round training and support to athletes of all ages with intellectual disabilities. Currently, more than 4,200 Delaware Olympians are served.
It all started in 1991, when the Lewes Polar Bear Club was approached by Special Olympics Delaware to consider incorporating one of their plunges to benefit their organization. The polar bears had been taking a monthly plunge since 1982 once a month from November through March, and word spread about their daring mini swims into the cold winter Atlantic.
Willing to get involved, the club helped organize the first plunge in 1992, and had an inspiring 78 brave participants. Special Olympics Delaware received $7,000. A Delaware tradition was born, and within three years, 339 signed up despite sub-freezing temperatures and wind chills. Local restaurants got involved, donating generous amounts of food and beverages.
Originally, Cape Henlopen State Park was the plunge site, but in the 90s, two Nor’easters blew through the area damaging the park to the extent that it was closed and deemed unsafe. Undaunted, organizers moved the location to Rehoboth Beach in 1995 where it remains ever since.
The Polar Bear Plunge has grown to become one of the state’s largest fundraising events, and participants last year numbered 3,000 with an estimated audience of 20,000 and countless volunteers and sponsors. Over $1M was raised last year.
Due to COVID, the plunge had to be canceled only once, in 2021. However, participants were invited to do the virtual plunge (pouring ice over your head, etc.). Despite the disappointment, 3,300 polar bears still raised $700,000. The virtual plunge remains an option due to its popularity.
The 2024 plunge is scheduled for Sunday, February 4th, and since 2009 as the event grew, organizers have created the genius annual Weekend Festival, an all-weekend event. It begins with Saturday’s 5K race, sand sculpting, trolley rides and local restaurants competing for the best chili. The Fire and Ice event gives revelers the opportunity to sample various wings (the fire), followed by local ice cream (the ice).
Sunday’s plunge is not until 1 pm, but the morning is filled with family friendly events, including sand and ice sculpting and plenty of food. The brave who choose to do the plunge at 1 pm are then invited immediately after to the Apres Plunge party at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center, featuring live music, pizza and chili (until it runs out).
Registration, sponsorship and volunteer opportunities are found on the Polar Bear Plunge website. If you haven’t yet felt the interest in taking the plunge yourself, come out and watch the amazing scene from the boardwalk and support the restaurants and retail shops on Rehoboth Avenue. Many are offering discounts and specials throughout the weekend.
Dare to be a Bear.
By Bridget Fitzpatrick, Resident Journalist