Forty-three people took the plunge Tuesday into a chilly Lake Lanier for the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club’s 11th annual Polar Bear Swim.
Atlanta area media swarmed the event at Clarks Bridge Park, the rowing and canoe-kayak site for the 1996 Olympics, recording the first jump made by Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann, who was followed by a brisk parade of other brave souls.
A harsh wind blew down on the divers, making the air feel colder than it was. The water temperature was announced at a "nice and balmy" 48 degrees.
"This year’s Polar Bear (event) is a true Polar Bear swim," said Jim O’Dell, chairman of the event, announcing to the crowd. "There is no ice. However, I think everyone can agree the conditions are just ideal for a polar bear swim."
Wangemann, a regular at the annual event that serves as a club fund-raiser, said, "It’s cold but refreshing," as he emerged from his first dive off a U-shaped wooden platform that hugged Lanier’s shoreline.
The event felt different this year, not only because of fewer participants than in the past but also a craggy shoreline showing evidence of the area’s severe drought.
This year’s theme was "Low Tide" because of the lower lake levels.
But at a depth of 25 feet, divers had plenty of water to make their first jump of 2008, said Jim O’Dell, chairman of the event.
However, "there are no high jumps," he said.
Also, there was no hot tub for shivering divers to climb into, as in the past. Instead, divers made their way to a tent filled with kerosene heaters.
One of those huddling in the tent was Jeremy Frydrych, who had just completed his first New Year’s dive.
"It was a little adventure for the new year," said the Flowery Branch resident. "My wife encouraged me, so I took the plunge today."
He admitted to a case of nerves.
"It’s very cold out today. The water’s really cold and the initial shock of the jump ... took your breath away."
Corey BeVier of Daphne, Ala., and her mother, Gail BeVier, of Cumming, made the jump together.
"I did it last year," said Gail. "I’ve lived here two years. I saw it in the paper last year and talked my girlfriend and her family into doing it."
She convinced Corey to make the jump this year.
"It’s a fun way to ring in the new year, kind of wash away the old ones," Corey said.
"That’s good, Corey," said her mother, impressed with her daughter’s rationale. "Very poetic."
Gail said this year’s jumps were worse than last year’s because "you remember how cold it was the first time."
"There’s no anticipation (the first time). You know what you’re in for (the second time)," she added.