Extra Points: O.C. surfing taking on chilly challenge
Ocean City surfer Rob Kelly carried his board down to the water's edge earlier this month, pausing to snap a few icicles off a nearby jetty. Once there, he peeled off a down jacket, a pair of pants and winter boots, then high-stepped into the 38-degree ocean wearing only a pair of board shorts and a tan ski cap atop his shoulder-length brown hair. He spent the next 10 minutes carving turns in a waist-high wave before dashing back to shore to dry off and warm up.
Then he trudged through snow-covered sand to his white van and headed home to his wife, Shannon, and infant son, Kash, grateful to have extended his chilly streak for another day.
"My buddies and I have always done the 'Polar Bear Plunge' in Ocean City on New Year's Day," Kelly said. "After it was over, I always felt so good and energized. I always said I wanted to keep going in and this year I finally decided to challenge myself."
As of Super Bowl Sunday, Kelly had been in the ocean 44 consecutive days. Conditions permitting, he brings his board and rides a wave. When the water's too flat or too rough for surfing, he simply wades in until he's chest deep and tries to stay there for three to five minutes.
"Sometimes you have to fight the urge to panic because it's so cold," he said. "You just have to relax and take deep breaths. There are a lot of health benefits to it."
According to Renutherapy.com, daily cold plunges have been known to boost your immune system, reduce inflammation, boost metabolism, improve circulation, and even increase happiness.
The Philadelphia Eagles have been using the therapy for years. There is often a waiting line to get into their cold tub after training camp practices and some players rely on cold water dips and Cryotherapy to help recover from offseason workouts.
Some days have been tougher than others for Kelly.
The streak almost came to an end on Jan. 29. A Nor'Easter roared over the shore, bringing 40 miles-per-hour winds and dumping a foot and a half of snow. He marched into the water while snow swirled around him.
"That was the toughest day so far, no doubt," he said. "I hesitated for a little while, but there was no way I was going to let a blizzard stop me. I talked myself into going in for three minutes. And once I got out there, I still felt refreshed. "It was too dangerous to surf (without a wetsuit), but after I was done, I headed up to LBI (Long Beach Island). There were six- to eight-foot waves and I caught a few."
Kelly, 31, is among a group of local surfers that catch waves year-round, no matter the temperature of the water or air. In 2017, he stormed through a 12-foot barrel in the aftermath of Winter Storm Stella in LBI that drew worldwide attention.
If there are waves to be ridden, he'll do anything to seek them out, even if they're not in the ocean. Last May, he was spotted at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry in Lower Township, cruising behind the wake of a boat as it left the terminal on its way across the Delaware Bay. The video was shown throughout the Northeast.
His cold-water challenge has also gained acclaim. Surf Taco, a chain of restaurants in LBI, has pledged to donate $100 to a charity of Kelly's choice for every day he wades into the water. His quest has been shown on ABC's Good Morning America and various media outlets.
This is one of those times when throwing cold water on one's dreams is actually a good thing.