A GROUP of shivering swimmers stripped half-naked and braved icy water early yesterday morning for the annual polar plunge in a murky Grahamstown dam.
And die-hard veterans of the "crazy” exploit vowed they would be back next year.
The brainchild of Rhodes University’s Prof George Euvrard – who is conveniently backpacking through sunny Turkey and could not make it – the chilly swim was started eight years ago to celebrate the winter solstice, the passing of the longest night of the year.
"George is presently sitting on a sunny acropolis in Turkey and sends his warm regards,” Rhodes computer science lecturer Richard Foss said.
He said a doctor and a psychologist had been waiting 30m away at the finish line to treat anyone who came unstuck during the daring doggy-paddle dash.
Cups of steaming hot chocolate were handed to the swimmers and spectators by sympathetic Grahamstown businessman Tim Dold.
"I am one of the sensible ones,” Dold said. "I will do the hot chocolate every year, but there is no chance I am going to swim.”
Some swimmers quipped they would rather be slapping on sunblock with Euvrard than shivering on the frosty banks of the dam, but Foss quickly told them – before they could chicken out – they had to shout out "into the light” before jumping into the freezing water.
"Last night [Wednesday] was the longest night of the year, the winter solstice has passed and we are now celebrating the movement into the light. We must provide love and light for the world,” he said, before taking the plunge.
Heavy rain the day before seemed to have dampened enthusiasm as just more than 20 people turned up yesterday, compared to the 50-odd who usually pitch up to punish themselves.
Swim "virgin” Mickey Whitthuhn, a maintenance manager at St Andrew’s College, said he had been inspired to take the plunge after a recent surf trip up the icy West Coast.
Towelling down after the mad dash, the former East Londoner said the water had not been so bad. "I could do this every morning,” he said, to sceptical glances from shivering swimmers.
Six swimmers from Kingswood College and six from the Diocesan School for Girls also took part.
Roxie Williamson, 14, and Gina Britz, 15, who arrived early and finished the swim 30 minutes before everyone else, said it had been so cold they could not feel their toes as they waded into the water.
"When I went under the water, it felt like my head exploded,” Roxie said.
British visitor Ellie Rous-Eyre, 19, joked that "if you thought I did not have enough brain cells when I accepted this challenge, then you will have to believe me that I have none left now”.