Every year they appear, starting in the late morning hours of New Year’s Day.
They come in groups; they come singly. They huddle by the surf’s edge, eyeing the waves with a combination of wariness and bravado.
Around 11:45 a.m. they begin to shed their outer skins of fleece and down, covering winter-chapped skin with jaunty towels. The shoes come off last, kept on until the last moment in a valiant attempt to beat back the chilly sand and damp, cold ocean breeze.
At precisely noon, when the traditional “OG” sign is raised, they make their move. Into the frigid waves they plunge with whoops of shock as the frigid water stings and numbs.
Within a few gleeful moments they are back on dry sand, struggling to pull warm, dry clothes over wet skin.
With that, another Leo Brady Exercise Like the Eskimos will be in the books. This year’s swim will be the 23rd time swimmers of all ages have taken to the ocean in Bethany Beach in what has become, for families and businesses and rag-tag groups of friends, a holiday tradition.
For those who want to participate but haven’t registered, there will be a registration event on Dec. 31 from noon to 3 p.m., and Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, on the Bethany Beach boardwalk bandstand (oceanfront, at Garfield Parkway) from 7:30 to 11:30a.m., according to Lauren Weaver, director of the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce, which along with the Quiet Resorts Charitable Foundation, sponsors both the Eskimo swim and the Hair of the Dog 5K/10K, also set for Jan. 1, 2019.
Registration costs $20 for individuals; there are also combination packages for those who want to do both the race and the swim.
Early this week, the weather looked a bit more swimmer-friendly than in some past years, including some in which there was snow on the beach and air temperatures dipped below freezing. This year, early weather forecasts call for temperatures in the low 50s at swim time.
“It doesn’t look like it’s going to be -5, so that’s exciting,” Weaver noted.
This year, the Chamber is partnering with the Cottage Café in Bethany Beach for an after-swim party from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., during which awards — including the Bathing Beauties Award for best-dressed team and the Leo Brady Award for the team that donates the most money for the William O. Murray Scholarships. Both Brady and Murray were well-known local residents who supported the Chamber doggedly.
The team with the largest number of swimmers will be awarded the Whale of a Team Award, Weaver said.
The Ocean View Historical Society will be the honorary starters for the event this year.
There are only a few rules in place for the swim, but they’re important. Participants must wear the wristbands obtained at registration and must wear bathing suits only. Teams must have at least six members in order to qualify for awards. Last, but not least, lifeguards will be on duty, but participants must sign waivers in order to swim.
For more information on the Leo Brady Exercise Like the Eskimos swim, go to the Chamber’s website at https://thequietresorts.com/events/ or call the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce at (302) 539-2100.
By Kerin Magill