mad-hatterOne of two ocean plunges will take place at the Mad Hatter in Sea Bright Saturday. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)


So you’re planning your New Year’s morning and thinking you’d like to do something stupid. Look no further.

All you have to do is decide where you’d like to execute your first questionable decision of 2011 — Sea Bright or Asbury Park.

Keeping with tradition sprouted eight years ago at Donovan’s Reef, two separate groups of locals will host New Year’s Day plunges into the Atlantic to raise money for charities.

The larger of the two, the Sons Of Ireland Polar Bear Plunge, gets underway at noon Saturday at Convention Hall in Asbury Park. Started eight years ago by a group of friends, the plunge gains more attention each year, which explains why it’s in Asbury.

In its inaugural year, the plunge had a measly 20 people freeze their buns off in Sea Bright. But it swelled from there, with hundreds coming to participate and thereby leaving the Sons in search of a larger venue.

“The thing got enormous,” said Dennis Nitka, one of the founders.

The Sons moved it down to Asbury Park about three years ago, but the tradition in Sea Bright lived on thanks to Mad Hatter owner Scott Kelly.

“We wanted to continue doing that sort of tradition, and we wanted to do it for a cause,” Kelly said.

Both plunges will benefit area charities. For the Hatter, which asks for a minimum donation or fundraising goal of $50 per plunger, it’s the cancer-research group Next Generation Foundation; for the Sons of Ireland, which has a minimum contribution/fundraising level of $100 per person, the proceeds go to Clean Ocean Action and the Mercy Center in Asbury Park.

The Mad Hatter plunge doesn’t come close to the number of participants that the Sons’ event gets, but Kelly believes in time it may get there.

“It’s become quite a big thing. Ultimately I hope to have this become a thousand-person plunge one day,” he said.

The Sea Bright festivities start at 10a with registration, and the plunge is at 1p, followed by lunch at the Mad Hatter. Each plunger and one guest eat for free. Here’s the registration info.

In Asbury Park, registration is at noon, followed by a bagpipe march to the water’s edge at 12:30p and the plunge at 1. Afterward, there’s food and music provided by the Nerds at Convention Hall. Registration info here.

For those on the fence about diving in, here’s somewhat encouraging news from the National Weather Service about conditions on New Year’s Day:

A slight chance of rain and snow showers before 8am, then a chance of rain showers. Partly sunny, with a high near 50. Southwest wind between 3 and 7 mph. Chance of precipitation is 30%. New precipitation amounts of less than a tenth of an inch possible.