It was 70 degrees Sunday afternoon when the Parrot Heads of the Savannah River gathered on New Year’s Day for their annual polar bear plunge. The sun was shining. There was a breeze. It was nice out.
“Too nice,” said Karl Keene, who proceeded to dump a large cooler of ice into his backyard pool in South Augusta. Minutes later, a handful of club members stripped down to their swimsuits and jumped in.
The annual event is a fundraiser to gather warm coats and clothing for the Salvation Army. The Parrot Heads of the Savannah River is a local chapter of Parrot Heads in Paradise, a national organization of Jimmy Buffet fans. They’ve held the plunge annually since 2003, but it didn’t become a fundraiser until 2005. The first two were just for kicks.
“There are only a couple rules,” Keene said. “You have to get 100 percent wet, head to toe. And two, you have to bring something - a coat, a hat, a sweater, something warm - to donate to the Salvation Army.”
Carol Gardner, of Aiken, offered tips for beginners: “You do not want to take the steps in. You go quick. Jump in and get it over with.”
Ron Gardner, her husband, won bragging rights for staying in the pool longest. Although a 70 degree day might sound nice for a swim, the water was a cool 55 degrees, he said.
“It’s a shock,” Gardner said. “You definitely feel it.”
The Parrot Heads, he pointed out, haven’t always lucked out on the weather. A few years ago, it was 17 degrees out and they still jumped.
Eight people took the plunge Sunday.
Keene said he hopes others across the city follow the Parrot Heads’ example, not necessarily by jumping in pools, but by donating coats and warm clothing of their own.
“Empty your closets. Take some things to the Salvation Army,” he said. “There are people who don’t have anything to keep them warm this year.”