Hunting Island Starts Off the New Year with a Splash

Posted 1/11/2012 4:39:00 PM

New Year’s Day at Hunting Island State Park was buzzing with out-of-the-ordinary activity. A group of friends decked out in bathrobes and shower caps sang Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash” at the top of their lungs, children marched around, humming on kazoos and the sounds of a steel drum band could be heard throughout the park. If it was your first time visiting Hunting Island on the first day of the year, you may have been left scratching your head.

Every New Year’s Day, the park teams up with the Friends of Hunting Island to host the Pelican Plunge, a fun twist on the more commonly known Polar Bear Plunge. At 1p.m., hundreds of people sporting wacky costumes and bathing suits run into the chilly ocean while spectators cheer them on for moral support. In the past, the will power of the plungers has been put to the test by the frigid weather, with temperatures as low as the 30s. The weather on this particular New Year’s Day treated plungers favorably, with clear skies and temperatures in the 70s.

“This is like summer,” one of the plungers said. “We’ve had much worse.”

The event begins with registration at noon and people milling around the lighthouse, socializing and stocking up on Pelican Plunge swag from the gift shop.

“We always buy our Pelican Plunge shirts early, because they sell out so fast,” one spectator said.

Participating groups are made up of long-time friends, family members and organized groups and clubs from around the Beaufort area, and each plays a vital role in the event’s success. The surrounding community has not only been a great source of support for the cultural, natural and recreational resources of Hunting Island, but for the Plunge as well. Jeff Atkins, the Park Manager and brains behind the event, says he was counting on this support system when he came up with the idea.

“The community here at and around Hunting Island is very involved and they like to have fun,” Atkins said. “We figured they’d show up to support us and they’ve come out by the hundreds and have been jumping in the water with us.”

The event is primarily focused on being a fun way to get together and kick off the New Year, but the added benefit is participants also raise money to support DiscoverCarolina, a curriculum-based, hands-on educational program held in the park. The Pelican Plunge is a joint effort between the park and the Friends of Hunting Island group, who Atkins says has been vital to the success of the event. Last year more than $3500 was raised in support of DiscoverCarolina.

Turnout rates for this year were at an all-time high, with more than 400 people taking the plunge and hundreds more watching from the beach. Atkins says he expects to see the event continue to be successful and produce a large turnout.

“It’s grown every year and I expect to see it continue to grow for years to come.”