Plunge into the new year

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SOUTH WALTON, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Everyone wants to start the new year off fresh and South Walton Fire District came up with a way to help you rinse off last year and plunge into the new one.

Thirty degree weather isn't typical for Florida, but that didn't stop about 200 people from taking the plunge.

"Polar plunges are traditionally started in northern parts of the country and we have this beautiful body of water here and it does get cold here in Florida and this is a way to rinse off the old year and start the new year fresh," said South Walton Fire District Fire Marshal Sammy Sanchez.

"You only live once, you gotta do it. You gotta try it and it's a lot colder at home so it's warm, we're in Florida, we need to play," visitors from St. Louis, Curran and Heather Findley said.

For the past five years, South Walton Fire District and Gulf Place have hosted a Polar Bear Plunge as brave souls bear the freezing temps to take a dip in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I can assure you this is probably one of the colder plunges in all of Florida," Sanchez said.

"We were barely in," said Reese Branton and Maryanna Clarke who came dressed as polar bears. "Our feet touched the water and then we were out."

"This is my fourth plunge," plunge enthusiast Douglas Johnson said. "Actually, the first three were up in Lake Michigan on January 1st in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, so I thought it might be easier down here but it was actually a little chilly today."

And when asked why they would want to do something that may seem crazy, they had some pretty good answers.

"My dad bet me $25 to do it," said Jesse Northuctt.

"[Reese] talked me into it so I was like, 'What the heck,'" said Clarke.

"It's great to just be out and support the fire department and see what's going on down here and having some fun with everybody else too and starting off the 2018 year," Johnson added.

Pairing a fun activities with a fundraiser, SWFD uses the money raised to educate the public about fire safety and prevention.

"We buy prevention education material. You know, plastic helmets, pencils, smoke alarms for our seniors or folks who can't afford smoke alarms. So, every bit of the money raised goes right back into the community in some form or fashion," Sanchez said.

There was even a costume contest where the Yeti himself made an appearance.

The Polar Bear Plunge is held each year on New Year's Day at Ed Walline beach access in South Walton.