Hamptons “Polar Bears” Take Icy Plunge into New Year

Friday, December 28th, 2007

Event Proceeds to Support Phoenix Academy of Long Island

Wainscott, NY, New Year’s Day 2008 – Gleeful yelps resounded along the surf at the end of Beach Lane in Wainscott this New Year’s Day, as a bold bunch of nearly 100 exuberant “Polar Bears” braved the frigid waters of the Atlantic for a worthy cause. Colin Mather, owner of the Seafood Shop in East Hampton, organized the eighth annual Polar Bear Seafood Shop Splashdown, donating the full $870 in proceeds to Phoenix Academy of Long Island in East Hampton, a residential high school providing comprehensive substance abuse treatment to teens, while helping them catch up academically.

The day’s events began with a “pre-splashdown” 1.6 mile 10-member group run from Mr. Mather’s Shop to the shore. With a stream of cars honking, African drums beating, and people decked out in outrageous costumes, there was, as Mr. Mather expressed, “a lot hooting and hollering going on.” Mr. Mather was inspired by the aura of enthusiasm, saying the scene reminded him of the film “Field of Dreams,” where Kevin Costner was advised to build his fantasy baseball field with an assurance that, “they will come.” Well, come they did, in droves. When the crowd of about 200 saw Mr. Mather’s group approaching, they erupted into ebullient cheers, which only escalated during Mr. Mather’s Happy New Year wishes. Mr. Mather then dedicated the event to his late father, Jackay, who in years past would set up a table and organize collections for Phoenix House. A “3-2-1” countdown was followed by the main attraction when the “Polar Bears” dashed into the surf “like a bunch of lunatics,” said Mr. Mather. Cameras were flashing and the aura of excitement surrounding the activities seemed to render the dippers impervious to the chilly conditions as they splashed about like kids on a summer’s day.

The Seafood Shop team in Wainscott boasts the pioneering “Polar Bear” group on Long Island’s East End. Although “Polar Bear” events are a nationwide phenomenon in the U.S., it was a foreign customer who provided the contagious enthusiasm that sparked Mr. Mather’s interest. Mr. Mather began his chilly annual group dips in 1999, when a customer from Holland (who now devotedly travels out to East Hampton every New Year to participate) told Mr. Mather about his country’s celebrated North Sea winter’s swim. “He kind of acted as the ambassador for our East End event,” stated Mr. Mather. Mr. Henry Clifford, an observer who continues to enjoy the celebration told Mr. Mather, “it’s become one of the best yearly traditions I attend.”

The day culminated in a celebratory fundraising gathering for Phoenix House at a private residence, where guests and participants enjoyed hot food and beverages, compliments of The Seafood Shop. Mr. Mather’s support of Phoenix House, one of the nation’s leading substance abuse prevention and treatment organizations, was prompted by feelings of respect and admiration. “Phoenix House has been very, very helpful to a person near and dear to me,” he states, “and it’s an incredibly worthwhile organization. I look forward to future benefits.”

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