Fenwick Freeze looks to heat up the weekend

As nearly a foot of snow blanketed the area this past week, the Fenwick Freeze, a New Year’s tradition, appears to be living up to its name. On Saturday, Jan. 1, daring divers will take the plunge for the seventh year, raising funds for the Fenwick Island lifeguards.

“We’re not exactly sure how the weather will affect the turnout,” said Becca McWilliams, a member of Fenwick Island’s event committee, “but we’re hoping to get the same turnout that we have in the past six years.”

Registration was open this week for the Fenwick Freeze, which will be held at the Bayard Street beach in Fenwick Island on Jan. 1, at 10:30 a.m. In recent years, upwards of 200 participants have taken to the chilly waters to raise money for the Fenwick Island Beach Patrol, which has produced top-placing teams at the United States Lifeguarding Association’s national competition in Manhattan Beach, Calif.

“It’s a really big event for the whole town,” said McWilliams. “It’s great for our lifeguards, who come back every year. We’ve got a great return rate, and they do a great job in the summertime for our beaches. We really enjoy giving them our support.”

Registration will continue on the first day of 2011, beginning at 9:30 a.m. at Bayard Street for participants who were unable to preregister. The fee for Fenwick Freeze participants is $20 and a T-shirt is included. Each year, the Freeze typically accumulates around $3,000.

In past years, the weather has frequently been chilly for a winter dip in the ocean, but with the holiday snowfall, McWilliams isn’t quite sure what to expect.

“Typically,” she noted, “a lot of people come into town for the New Year’s holiday, and with the roads clearing up, we’re hoping that people don’t have a difficult time getting here. We’re not too sure what we’ll do with all the snow here, but it should warm up this weekend, and, hopefully, most of it will melt.”

The Fenwick Freeze has been growing as a spectator’s sport over the years, with plenty more observers taking to the beach than plungers.

“We get a ton of people on the beaches watching everybody jump in,” McWilliams said. “We usually have around 300 to 400 spectators come out.”

And, for divers and onlookers, it doesn’t have to be a complete frigid affair.

Around the Fourth of July holiday, the Town of Fenwick Island supplements their lifeguards’ competition funding with an evening bonfire, but the town’s event committee is looking to heat things up this weekend, too.

“With such cold temperatures,” said McWilliams, “we’re going to have a bonfire at the Fenwick Freeze for the very first time, to help warm people up and get them into the spirit. The Freeze is a great way to start their day and get a head start on a new year. We want to see as many people there as we can. You’ve got to be brave to jump in, but we’ve always said, ‘If you feel like it, do it.’ That’s always been our motto, and people seem to have a really good time.”