Drawn by balmy temperatures to the annual Lake George New Year's Day Polar Plunge, about 2,000 revelers took to the 34-degree lakewaters in three waves of swimmers.
About 2,000 swimmers charged into the frigid waters Sunday on New Year's Day, following a decades-long community tradition of welcoming in the new year with a polar swim.
The event drew people from all over the region, many of whom donned a variety of unusual clothing or costumes, heightening the revelry associated with the event.
Swimmers were seen not only in swim trunks or bikinis, but wearing Viking helmets, or disguised as a duo of ketchup ad mustard bottles. Another couple was costumed as Dorothy and Toto of The Wizard of Oz.
Tim Christensen of Schuylerville was garbed as Fred Flintstone. He watched others, near-naked, stand shivering on Shepard Park beach waiting for the signal to take a plunge.
“This event is ridiculous, senseless and silly, but thank God it's not yet illegal,” he said.
One man, Tush Nikollaj, founder and CEO of LogicalNet of Schenctady, chalked up a first for the polar swim -- he was dressed in his office clothes.
Nikollaj wore a pin-striped worsted wool Armani suit, Italian leather shoes and dark sunglasses when he ran into the frigid lakewaters and took a dive, then dashed out again, soaked from head to heels.
This top executive of the computer web hosting firm talked as if his plunging getup was merely routine.
“It's invigorating and a fantastic way to start the new year – If you're dressed well,” he said. “I do everything in a fine suit: fish, paint and swim – and my dry cleaner loves me.”
While many said they'd waited all year for this event, others were coerced to attend.
Mike and Stephanie, a couple from Malta, said that polar swimming in Lake George was on their “bucket list.” But their teen offspring, Matthew and Meredith, were dragged to the event, Matthew claimed as he stood shivering, waiting for the second wave of swimmers to take a mass plunge.
“We were forced into this,” he said as his father was fogging up his mother's glasses with his breath as a distraction. “I was comfy on the couch, all set to watch the Rangers hockey game.”
The 15-year-old ice hockey fan wasn't the only polar swimmer who was cold and reticent.
Sidney LaPann, a Junior at Bolton Central School, said she has participated in the event for three years, at the urging of her classmate Madlyn Wilson, whose family made the polar plunge an annual tradition.
“It's something I look forward to every year,” she said.
“But I dread it,” she added with a grin.
Others were clearly enthusiastic about the plunge and its party atmosphere. For hours, the waiting line for registration was about two blocks long.
Near the back of the registration line early afternoon, Herman Slater of Copake (Columbia Co.) NY, walked forward, leaning on his cane.
He was wearing a helmet that looked like a furry turkey ready for the oven, plus swim shorts that sagged under his stomach.
Slater said he'd been attending the New Year's Day polar swim for nine years, and the weather in 2012 was far balmier than prior years.
“Three years ago, my shorts froze immediately to my skin,” he said. “I took 'em off, and they stood up by themselves.”
His son, Justin Slater, said he likes the tradition of the annual polar swim tradition he and his parents have been following for many years.
“This gets the family together,” he said.
Nearby, Hans Janke stood in line, dressed in trunks, a Hawaiian shirt, a leather jacket and a hat that resembled the head of a polar bear.
“This is like being baptized,” he said, looking at his friend Chris Gilluley who was wearing an orange shag fedora. “It's a process of cleansing of the past year and starting the new year right.”
Another cohort, Mark Darrigo, offered his view on the frigid experience.
“I't a natural euphoric experience – an incredible 'high' – without drugs.”
While many were standing in line, others were waiting on the beach, greeting strangers, sharing their thoughts and fears.
Bikini-clad Erin Madden of Saratoga stood shivering, as her partner Dave Wronowski rubbed her arms to boost her temperature.
“This is my first time doing it, and I'm really scared,” she said.
Soon after, one of the three waves of 700 or more swimmers charged into the 34-degree waters. Among them were a half-dozen members of the Fraternal Order of Leatherheads – firefighters from the Capital Region. Kicking their legs high, wearing only shorts and fire helmets, they laughed and yelled while splashing. They've participated in the polar swim for four years, their leader said.
“It's a tradition of our brotherhood, and we have a ball doing it,” he said. “Also, we like supporting the Lake George community groups that benefit.
Among those benefiting this year were local food pantries, organizer Linda Duffy said. The $10-per-person registration donation pays for the long-sleeved commemorative plunge shirts, and a portion goes towards expenses of Lake George Winter Carnival. The remainder is donated to various charities, Duffy said.
“We've had an amazing turnout this year,” she said.
Last in line as a registered swimmer for the 2012 New Year polar plunge was Janna Mackley of Schenectady. She said the long wait in line was worth it.
“You only live once,” she said with a grin.