There were two challenges at the Fenwick Freeze this New Year’s Day. First, the obvious: getting into ocean water that topped out around 40 degrees. Second: getting the event to live up to its well-attended inaugural edition, despite air temperatures some 25 degrees colder.
On the first count, Sunday’s event was a rousing success. Freezers raced to the water line by the dozens — most clad only in the skimpiest of their summer-wear.
On the second, another success, though perhaps a slightly more modest one, simply due to the seasonably chilly air temperatures.
By the time registration moved to the Cannon Street beach in Fenwick Island on Sunday morning, more than 130 participants had registered, nearly double the number who registered in the weeks prior. Indeed, commemorative T-shirts for the event (elegantly-designed long-sleeved affairs) were long gone by the time the swimmers hit the water.
Ironically, if there was an obvious impact of the 46-degree weather for the 2006 Freeze, it may have been in a comparative lack of spectators. Several hundred people turned out for the 2005 inaugural edition, spectators and participants included.
Loose estimates for the 2006 edition were closer to 200, but the bulk of those on the beach stripped down to swimsuits as the 10:30 a.m. official start time neared, confirming the event’s move toward becoming a New Year’s annual tradition in the area, despite several competing events.
The intrepid splashers not only had to conquer the chilly ocean waters that awaited them, as well as the startlingly similar air temperature — they also had to face down an intimidating beach drop-off created by early winter storms working on the town’s recently replenished beach.
Silver ribbons and tiki torches marked the starting line — right at the edge of a sharp bank some 3 feet high and just slightly sloped in the starting area thanks to some brief preparation by event organizers. Those at the front of the gathering crowd peered over the drop — some eagerly and some with a look of dread that might have equaled their opinion of the chilly dip to come.
Organizer Jo Ellen Cain once again donned her fur coat/bikini combination for the Fenwick Freeze, pausing briefly to introduce Oliver Cropper, an owner of the Fenwick Island Lighthouse property. The lighthouse was the beneficiary of the Freeze in 2005 and again in 2006.
Joined by Fenwick Island Town Council Members Chris Clark and Theo Brans, Cain then set loose the participants for their run down the bank and into the ocean.
From young children to perky retirees, they hit the water, most splashing briefly before retreating at a run to dry towels, warm clothes, hot chocolate and a toasty bonfire — once they conquered that hefty bit of a hill, headed upward this time. (A couple gentlemen even helped out a reporter with a small child strapped to her, when she had trouble getting back up the bank.)
Unlike in 2005, few attending the second annual Fenwick Freeze lingered in the water. And few of the spectators were even brave enough to get their toes wet. The chilly temperatures chased most off the beach rather quickly, too.
But several dozen of those who attended the event remained behind to socialize on that first day of 2006. Some of them even signed up for the 2007 event, ready to take on the challenge of a New Year’s Day swim in the waters of Fenwick Island, no matter what the weather might be.