Back Eddy plunge: Extra courage required


WESTPORT — With all due respect to the horde that jumped last year, the 177 brave souls who took the Back Eddy New Year's plunge Tuesday truly earned their brunch.

"This was the real thing," said Sal Liotta, owner of the Westport restaurant. Unlike every other polar plunge around where people dash down a beach, at this one they jump from the dock straight into the deep water.

The water temperature in Westport Harbor was 38 degrees and the air temperature topped out at about 37 degrees.

"Actually it was a normal winter day," unlike last year when when water temperatures of 50 to 52 degrees tempted 318 people to leap in.

Although the number of swimmers was down due to the weather, Mr. Liotta said this year's event was a big success anyway since an additional 170 people paid to have brunch — mostly family members and friends of the swimmers. And bar business was especially brisk this year as well.

Even working inside, Mr. Liotta said he heard lots of high quality screaming, a good indication of conditions outside. But there were no medical emergencies — the EMTs present "had nothing to do" except eat.

Mr. Liotta said he has the utmost respect for those who take this plunge.

At beach polar plunges, a lot of participants "run out up to their knees, splash around, scream and then — I'm done. Come on, some of those people don't even get wet."

Here, "you jump, you're all in." He knows, having done it six times himself, though not this year and maybe never again.

The event, though, will certainly continue.

"We learn something every year to make it better the next," Mr. Liotta said. One lesson for the future — "No spectators." Since dock space is limited, anyone who wants to watch from the dock in the future will either have to jump or buy brunch."

And next year they'll have a few dry mops handy to clean up the trails of water into the dining area.

While last year was ridiculously warm, the event's 14-year history also includes the experience of three years ago when it was so cold that they had to cut a hole in the ice. Having done that, "We looked around and said — no jumping this year. Too dangerous. You have to be sure that everyone who goes under can get back up to the surface."

As usual, people of most ages participated. There were some as young as 8 and others as old as the mid-seventies.

They came singly, in pairs and in big groups. The biggest delegation, 25 or so, was from the Vikings motorcycle club. And as usual the Polgar clan — Anthony, Stephanie and a dozen or so family members, too part.

Except for the staff party, it all gets quiet now at the Back Eddy which closes for the winter until mid-March.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.