LAKE GEORGE - "Let's go swimming," the crowd jamming Shepard Park Beach chanted on New Year's Day afternoon, as the announcer barked there were just a few minutes left for the first wave of swimmers to rush into the waters of Lake George for the annual New Year's Day Polar Plunge event.
Soon after, about 800 or so shrieking near-naked people of all ages stampeded into the water, and most all ran out seconds later. Others cavorted in the frigid waters for several minutes while others returned to the beach for the relative comfort of robes or towels.
After an initial dip, Eric Diem of Saratoga skipped into the water until it was thigh deep, then he took a sideways dive into the cold water.
"Wow, that was breathtaking," he said as he ran back to shore, cold water running off his body. "Like my name, man, Carpe Diem, seize the day, start the year anew."
Diem was one of a record number of swimmers participating in the annual polar plunge. The unparalleled number of swimmers necessitated three waves of plungers rushing into the water at half-hour intervals, a first-ever for the event. Plunge organizers credited the balmy 45-plus degree weather for the record turnout.
Near Diem on the beach was Eric Lucas, also of Saratoga. He said this was his first time he went polar swimming in 42 years. The last time he was in frigid waters, was as a youngster when his mother tossed him in Brant Lake in late winter as soon as the ice receded.
Not far away on the beach was a man dressed in a banana suit - Randy Hotaling of Amsterdam stood ready to jump in with the second wave of first-day revelers.
His friend Darci Novak of Broadalbin had recruited about eight of her friends to take the plunge.
"We've got a lot of virgin polar swimmers here," Novak said as she looked at her 20-something friends.
Don Esey of Schaghticoke and his son Matt, 12, ran into the water and held poles with a a large white sheet stretched between them.
On the beach, they talked of the purpose of their act.
When they get home, Esey said, he intends to digitally manipulate the photo to superimpose images of his tavern friends, as if they, too were swimming in the icy waters of Lake George.
"I want to josh my friends who chickened out on this," he said as the Lac du St. Sacrement cruised by and blew its horn. Dozens of kayakers floated nearby to watch the onrush of swimmers
C.J. Sadera of Central Valley dashed in and returned to shore directly afterwards.
"Omigod, omigod, omigod, it's freezing," he said.
Gordon McGowan of Warrensburg stood on the shore dripping wet and offered advice.
"The ultimate rush in when you run back," the 45-year-old said.
As a youth, his mother Regina Shaw may have been protective, he said, but some time ago, she dared him to take a polar plunge.
"Now, I can't get enough of this," he added.
McGowan, who's taken the plunge for several years, has done the deed years ago in sub-zero temperatures.
This year, the 45-degree weather was accommodating, he said, but the water may have actually been colder than other years, he said.
"The water tingles like crazy," he said.
Farther up on shore was a bearded man named Carl, dressed in a red wrestling suit and a striped Dr. Seuss hat, slugging down gulps from a large bottle of mint schnapps as his 24-year-old daughter Lydia, dressed in a terrycloth robe and flip-flops, drank Twisted Tea and smoked home-rolled cigarettes. The two dashed in the water together with Carl's other daughter Hannah, 17.
"We prepare so we can weather the cold," he said.
Caitlin Lefton of Queensbury stood at the shoreline, scanning the 800 or so bathers running out of the water, many with dropped jaws and screaming.
"It's my job to try to get to them if they have a heart attack or seizure," she said.