ASBURY PARK – The Sons of Ireland Polar Bear Plunge began in 2003 as a group of mostly Christian Brothers Academy alumni having some fun on New Year’s Day has evolved into a major annual fundraising event drawing close to 3,000 spectators and nearly 500 plungers who dip, jump, leap and body surf into the Atlantic Ocean on the morning of the first day of the New Year to raise money for worthy grassroots charities.
“It was just for fun at first,” says Sean Clifford of Rumson, “a great way to start the New Year and raise money to help a good cause.”
Clifford is one of the original core group of friends who formed the nonprofit Sons of Ireland organization in 2002. The association is dedicated to the principles of brotherhood, charity and community service, and supports worthy charities and causes within the Monmouth County.
“The plunge became an annual tradition and we started to charge $25 to anyone who wanted to participate and then we donated the money to charity,” recalls Clifford. “I’m not sure that any of us, looking back, imaged that in 10 years we’d still be doing this or that it would become so large or such an anticipated tradition along the Jersey Shore.”
This year, the event will benefit four local charities: 180 Turning Lives Around, Horizons Student Enrichment Program, Impact Oasis, Kevin’s Journey of Hope and the Parker Family Health Center.
Registration begins at 10 a.m. with the polar bear plunge taking place at 1 p.m. – following a bagpipe march to the water’s edge and the singing of the National Anthem.
To register, or for more information, visit www.sonsofireland.org.
The Sons of Ireland Polar Bear Plunge has raised more than $350,000 for more than 15 charities, including The 9/11 Fund for the Education of Monmouth County Children, The Ashley Lauren Foundation, The Barn for the Poorest of the Poor, Clean Ocean Action, The Mercy Center, The Wellness Community, Holiday Express, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middlesex & Monmouth Counties, Sea Bright Rising and Special Olympics.
The event was originally held at Donovan’s Reef in Sea Bright, which was very important to establishing the event as a tradition in the local Two River community.
In 2008, the organizers were approached by Asbury Park and invited to use Convention Hall and the Asbury Park Boardwalk, which has really helped support the event as it has grown.
“We have a very large, heated enclosure with Convention Hall,” says Dennis Nitka of Rumson, another of the Sons of Ireland. “This gives us a large warm space to gather before and after the Plunge, plus plenty of parking, welcoming local businesses and other amenities. Everyone always looks forward to Brian Kirk and the Jirks performing, and it’s also a very family-friendly event.”
“Each plunger is asked to raise a minimum of $100,” says Clifford. “We have people of all ages who come out, from high school sports teams to groups of friends, people celebrating a milestone like a fiftieth birthday, people who just love the ocean … sometimes entire families take the plunge. It’s something all the spectators really enjoy watching.”
Spectators enjoy a great day too. This year, Kimon and the Prophets will warm up the crowd pre-plunge. Post-plunge, Brian Kirk and the Jirks, one of New Jersey’s most popular club bands, will get the crowd dancing. The Sons of Ireland Polar Bear Plunge takes place at the Fifth Avenue intersection on Ocean Avenue, in Convention Hall on the Asbury Park Boardwalk. Food and beverages are available.