About 1,000 people took to the shore of Sullivan's Island Jan. 1 for Dunleavy's Pub Polar Plunge | Photos by Chelsea Grinstead

Families and friends gathered en masse on the beach at 2 p.m. Sunday to greet the new year with a chilling dive into the Atlantic Ocean during the 20th annual Dunleavy’s Pub Polar Plunge on Sullivan’s Island. A similar event occurred Sunday at Folly Beach.

“It’s a good way to start the new year and ring it in with good feelings and vibrations,” said Jamie Maher, owner of Dunleavy’s Pub, which started the event 20 years ago. 

Pub founder Bill Dunleavy jumped in the ocean on New Year’s Day with a group of friends two decades ago, Maher said, and since then it’s grown into a time-honored tradition. This year’s event garnered about 1,000 people. 

Dunleavy’s opened bright and early for the pre-party. After a glacial dip into the 52-degree ocean, participants funneled back to Middle Street to keep the block party going with the pub’s neighboring restaurants. 

“Years ago, we connected with the Special Olympics South Carolina, so that’s been a big draw,” Maher said. “We call it ‘freezing for a reason.’ People come down and donate money, and we’ve raised more than $500,000 over the past few years. All the restaurants out here also donate a percentage of sales to the Special Olympics.”

Why do they jump in the cold water?

Tom Lawrence of Mount Pleasant has been doing the polar plunge with his family for the past three years after relocating from Boston. 

Mount Pleasant resident Tom Lawrence wearing a quirky getup for the Polar Plunge 

“It’s a great way to start a new year and start off on a positive foot,” Lawrence told the City Paper while standing on the beach in a Grinch costume with a Santa beard. It’s the second year he’s dressed as the Grinch to take an icy dip in the Atlantic with his family. 

“My daughter Bella loves doing this,” he said. “She loves the ocean and loves the celebration.”

While most people were dressed in regular swimsuits or bikinis, some of the costumes included plungers dressed as hot dogs, the Grim Reaper and Santa.  

“People were seriously into it,” one observer said.

Maher said his favorite part of the celebration is the assortment of costumes worn by participants.

“When I was down on the beach earlier, I saw some kids who are now grown adults who I’ve known since they were little doing the plunge,” he said. “I love seeing that over the years, the tradition is continuing on.” 

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