Crowds linger in warm seas at polar plunges

Participants race toward the Atlantic Ocean at the 3rd annual Folly Beach "Bill Murray Look-a-like" contest and Polar Bear Plunge on New Year's Day. Wade Spees/Staff

The new year started out right for Karie Brewer.

“I did not wake up a winner this morning and now I am one,” said the Charleston mom, who with friends Shelly Rood and Lisa Sienicki, took home the top group prize as Stay Puft marshmallow girls at Folly Beach’s 3rd Annual Bill Murray Look-a-Like Polar Bear Plunge.

The “Ghostbusters”-inspired trio beat out groups dressed as characters from “Stripes,” “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” “Caddyshack,” “Space Jam” and more. They received gift cards to several area businesses.

Charles Ward won the individual male competition for his “Scrooged,” wearing a costume he dons for local productions of “A Christmas Carol,” and Jennifer Moore won for Bill Murray in “Zombieland,” the 2009 flick in which the actor plays himself.

But while the crowd might have been a good representation of Murray’s cinematic history, the celebrity himself, who is often seen at events around town, was not at the plunge on the Edge of America.

“We contacted him once and he was filming a movie,” said Matt Zengerle, manager of the Tides hotel. “Hopefully, he will come. We just love the guy out here at Folly Beach.”

With temperatures in the low 60s and a misty rain falling most of the afternoon, the crowd — which included many dressed in non-Murray-themed costumes, street clothes and swimsuits — was slightly smaller than last year’s estimated 2,000, organizers said.

But because the water was warmer, around 65 degrees, they lingered in the surf longer than usual.

“Usually, we just run in and out as fast as we can,” said Sandy Smoak of Charleston. “This year, we stayed in a little longer and actually played. The water felt warmer than the air.”

The event is a fundraiser for the Folly Beach Business Association.

At Sullivan’s Island, the annual Dunleavy’s Polar Bear Plunge to Benefit Special Olympics also went off without a hitch, said Dunleavy’s co-owner Jamie Maher. He estimated the crowd at 5,000, which is larger than last year’s.

“It might have been one of our bigger ones,” he said. “It was crazy. There were people swimming all over the place. People were going back in.”

Asked if anything notable happened, Maher said, “I think there might have been a proposal. I saw a guy down on the knee and a girl crying, so I’m guessing that might have happened but I’m not 100 percent sure.”

Reach Brenda Rindge at 843-937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.