Taking the plunge in brisky Florida waters

By JOHN LORSON Columnist Published:

The folks from Quebec hit the water first. It's not that it was a race or anything; it's just that I had seen them on the highway paralleling our southward pace, then later on the bridge crossing the Halifax River to Daytona Beach. A family similar in size and configuration to my own, it seemed obvious they had the same sort of holiday in mind. And it had appeared they may have been a bit more seasoned in the art of family travel than my entourage; they already had their sun hats and oversized shades on as they zipped past on the final stretch toward the Atlantic. (I'd even be willing to bet a handful of loonies and toonies they had their swim suits on, too, when they checked into the very same hotel just moments ahead of us.)

Now, here we all stood, pale clusters, if liberated snow birds, breathing in the sea breeze and basking in temperatures we'd have to wait another five months for at home. It wasn't a matter of if we'd be hitting the waves, it was merely a matter of when -- and for how long.

The Florida warmth was a bit deceiving that first afternoon. It was a magnificent 65 degrees upon our arrival and for all we knew it was summertime all year round there on the golden shore.

What seemed a bit mysterious to all of us was that all along the seemingly endless stretch of beach only a tiny handful of folks were actually in the water. We assumed the locals were all caught up in the hustle and bustle of shopping in the last few days before Christmas and therefore too busy to swim, surf or lay about in the sun. I heaped this assumption upon the one I had made when I was able to book a room just days before our arrival at half the normal price: Everyone else in the world is headed to their mother-in-law's for the holidays so there's a huge surplus of ocean-view hotel rooms available for folks like me who are fleeing such gatherings!

Turns out the empty hotels and the sparsely-populated beach had a lot less to do with last minute gifts and family commitments than it did water cold enough to make a porpoise blush!

So while the Canadians made it into the water first, they didn't stay in long enough to stake their claim. I would characterize their collective dip as something akin to what a few of their more hardy, less well-traveled and desperately winter-bored countrymen would be doing a week hence: Cutting a big square hole in a frozen lake and taking a polar bear plunge.

Me? Well, I didn't drive 16 hours to dip my toe in the water and run for my towel. I went in full body and waited out some tasty waves. This was the first time to the ocean for two of my three children and I wanted to make sure they got a full-on baptism. It didn't take any coaxing at all once dad hooked up with a sweet little roller and rode it right to their feet!

Within minutes the whole family was up to their ears in the brisk Atlantic and we didn't stop until one of the kids noticed that my "old man hands" had turned from purple to dead flesh white.

We retreated to our towels to shiver in a close huddle while the Quebecers stood in awe of the bravery (quite likely pronounced "stupidity" in French) of their American counterparts!

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