Keep Fit: Polar Plunges and Enjoying the Gift of the Ocean Year-Round

The Polar Bear Plunge in Southampton is December 13
The Polar Bear Plunge in Southampton is December 13, Photo: Barry Gordin

Southampton Village’s Main Street was flooded with shoppers over Thanksgiving weekend.

Everyone seemed to agree: This was the busiest off-season weekend in recent memory.

To be clear, Southampton’s Black Friday was not mall-like. Nor was it city-like. But there were sales and definite lines at stores, and unlike in weeks past, it wasn’t possible to park your car in front of whatever business you were planning on visiting. The crowds were impressive, and I was happy to see so much activity post-Labor Day.

In between dodging Thanksgiving weekend revelers, I happened upon Flying Point on Main Street and went inside to check out their sales.

Seduced by the idea of being in a surf shop so late in the year, I wandered upstairs to the wetsuits. I standup paddleboard frequently in the summer and try to extend the season as long as possible, but I reluctantly put my board in the garage in late October.

As I stared at the black expanse of neoprene suits in front of me, I began to wonder: Could I become a year-round SUPer?

There’s nothing I hate more than the cold. There’s nothing I like better than the ocean. While I visit the beach year-round, the chilly weather definitely prevents me from enjoying it as much as I do in the summer. (Sometimes, I drive to Little Plains Beach during my lunch breaks and pay bills or schedule a doctor’s appointment over the phone while staring at the ocean. It definitely makes bland errands far less arduous.)

But, like the surprise number of Southampton visitors who opted to head east in the offseason, I was beginning to think that there’s no reason why I shouldn’t take advantage of water sports when the temperature dips, too.

After some independent research aided by the friendly sales reps at Flying Point, I narrowed down my wetsuit choices. For those who are also interested in mid-winter ocean dips, wetsuits come in varying degrees of thickness, measured in millimeters. Thickness is denoted using two numbers. The first number indicates the thickness of the material covering the torso, and the second represents the thickness of the material covering the extremities. This enables your core to stay warm while allowing better flexibility and range of motion in your legs and arms. Recommended suit thickness—and the addition of boots, gloves and a hood—goes up as the temperature drops. To give a reference point, the average water temperature out here hits the low-50s by December, at which point a minimum 4/3 full suit is necessary.

Though I love the idea of SUPing with a snowfall, the reality is that I’m probably not going to be out there when the temps drop below freezing. Rather, this will allow me to extend my standup paddleboarding shoulder season. Maybe I’ll stay out of the water in January and February, but March and April are now viable options.

However, until the wetsuit is purchased, I’ll stay content with my annual December dip in the Atlantic. The 11th annual Polar Bear Plunge is this weekend—December 13 at Coopers Beach in Southampton at 10 a.m. Funds benefit Human Resources of the Hamptons, a Southampton-based organization that helps community members in need.

Costume or bathing suit–clad revelers gather at the beach—rain, snow or sleet—and jump in. It’s exhilarating, and an amazing antidote to the shorter winter days. The best part may be the survivors’ tent, which is stocked with warm soups, donuts, hot dogs and, just outside, a massive bonfire. One tip to those planning on going in: Put something on your feet. You won’t believe how painful it is for numb feet to walk on sand.

They say that salt water is good for the soul. Feed yours in more way than one this weekend.

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