The waters off of Manasquan's Main Beach were calm and clear, and temperatures on-land at least hovered around 45 degrees. It was enough to encourage some participants of the sixth annual Joan Dancy and PALS Polar Bear Plunge to brave the Atlantic not once, but sometimes several times, this past Saturday.
The yearly event raises funds to fight Amyotrophic Lateral Scleroris (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gherig's Disease.
Joan Dancy and PALS, an organization based out of Red Bank, aims to "provide financial assistance and emotional support to our friends and neighbors in Monmouth and Ocean Counties afflicted with this devastating disease," according to the group's official website.
There is no cure for ALS, which attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing muscles to weaken and atrophy. An ALS patient's care can run up to $250,000 a year, according to the site.
Excitement built as hundreds of plungers and their supporters flocked to the beach for the noon event. Individual participants and teams alike showed camraderie for the good cause, in an array of colors and costumes.
"Team Frost" wore purple, green, and black-striped bodysuits and jester hats. "Team Viking" was fairly self-exaplanatory in viking helmets, and one patriotic team, clad in American flag regalia, could be heard chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A," as the national anthem was sung before the plunge commenced. Spongebob Squarepants made an appearance, as did Rocky Balboa, complete with striped shorts and a ready-to-plunge boxing stance.
And of course, more than a few Giants fans were on hand to show their spirit for the big upcoming game, clad in their jerseys.
After the singing of the anthem and a moment of silence for those who have lost their lives to, and those who continue to fight, ALS, plungers tore through a line of red tape as spectators cheered and a gigantic "heart" of red balloons was released into the air.
The water exhilarated many, as cheers and smiles could be seen and heard from the waves, and some plungers chose to either stay in the water for several minutes, or emerge and run back in again.
The Atlantic "wasn't that bad," said Amanda Foreman, 15, of Holmdel, wrapped in a beach towel post-plunge. In fact, "getting out was the hardest part," she added.
Point Borough's Mike Jordan, 22, of Team Viking, a veteran plunger of four years, said Saturday was "the warmest ever" of all the plunges.
Team Viking started as five people and has grown to 15 over the years, and is a way to honor Mike's sister-in-law's father, who died of ALS, he said.
More than $200,000 of the day's proceeds would go directly to area ALS patients, said an event announcer over a loudspeaker, and half a dozen states were represented by plungers that day, he said.
Joan Dancy and PALS, which was founded six years ago by Terry Magovern, who lost his fiancee, Joan Dancy, to ALS.
It was Dancy's wish that Terry begin something to help other ALS patients in the area, which he did with the creation of the plunge.
When Terry passed away several years ago, his son, Sean Magovern, took over as president and executive director of the organization.
Ryan Magovern, 28, of Belmar, "just jumped in and popped back out," but reported the water wasn't so bad.
"You can't go wrong," said Magovern, of the combination of mild winter weather and the good cause of the day.
Organization Trustee Jim O'Neill noted that the event "keeps gettting better," growing annually in participation and proceeds, he said.
The event can be "bittersweet," he said, noting that teams join the plunge to support a loved one with ALS,and continue to carry on the tradition after the person has passed away.
O'Neill expressed a hope that the plunge continue to grow to support those fighting ALS.