In a tradition observed around the world, Corpus Christi residents have long taken part in the ritual of rushing into the cold water from the beach on New Year’s Day. The decades of annual events started with a dare by Chamber of Commerce Manager Dan Chamberlin at a Christmas party in 1954 and resulted in his staff taking the first dip in the Gulf on Jan. 1, 1955.
Some years, the swimmers enjoyed comfortable 80+ degree weather, while most years it was down to the 40s or 50s. An advertisement for the New Year’s Day Swim in 1964 hoped to bring crowds with its beauty pageant, sailboat races, clowns, diving, water skiers, coffee and doughnuts. The swim returned often to the Gulf but also was held some years on North Beach.
Certificates handed out to those who took the plunge stated the event was “an indication of the year ’round mildness of Corpus Christi weather.” Well, it was until it wasn’t. Several years of cold weather put an end to the tradition after Jan. 1, 1978’s event. Sponsorships by the Chamber of Commerce and the Jaycees ended, as the event wasn’t seen as encouraging to tourism with freezing swimmers shivering on the beach.
That didn’t stop locals from enjoying the occasion for decades, through warm and cold. The tradition lives on in a new form today: Corpus Christi Polar Bear Plunge.
When Alissa Mejia’s father was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, she was motivated to create a community event rooted in raising funds and awareness for the disease. “One way to address ALS is to focus on positive activity and bringing the community together in understanding and fighting the disease,” Mejia states on the event’s website. Inspired by the original event, Mejia decided to revive the New Year’s Day tradition and held the first Corpus Christi Polar Bear Plunge on Jan. 1, 2015 on North Beach.
According to Corpus Christi Polar Bear Plunge, the event has managed to raise about $65,000 for ALS-related research. Though Mejia sadly lost her father in 2018, the yearly plunge continues in his memory. This year’s event will of course take place on New Year’s Day and begins at 10:45 a.m. A warm-up run with the Corpus Christi Roadrunners will begin at 11:15 a.m. to help participants get their blood pumping before taking the plunge at noon. After the plunge, attendees are invited inside the Emerald Beach Hotel, which will include a snack buffet, a drink for each participant and access to the hot tub and heated pool.
With the New Year’s Day forecast looking promising (sunny and a high of 77º), event attendees might actually be in for a nice winter day at the beach! To register for this year’s plunge or to donate to Corpus Christi Polar Bear Plunge’s cause, visit the website.
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in the January 2022 print edition of The Bend in the Looking Back section under the title, “A New Year’s Day Swim.” It has since been edited and updated to reflect the New Year’s Day 2023 event.