OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Santa looked a little stunned, but managed a jolly smile as he emerged from the chilly Atlantic just after noon on New Year’s Day.

“Ooooh, that was cold,” said Donald Frey of Marlborough, Massachusetts, as he slipped back into his red jacket and wrapped himself in a towel. “But I’ll do it again.”

Frey took his first midwinter swim in Old Orchard Beach with 302 others during the 27th annual Lobster Dip to support Special Olympics Maine. At exactly high noon – with the air temperature at 28 degrees and the water only about 15 degrees warmer – the dippers braced themselves against a stiff wind and plunged into the ocean to raise more than $100,000.

The annual event, the largest fundraiser for Special Olympics Maine, has become a New Year’s tradition for many dippers. Most come in costumes or outlandish outfits, cheered on by family members holding signs and snapping photos. Nearly everyone calls himself or herself crazy for doing it.

Rocky Frenzilli was among the members of the Portland Rugby Club who started the Lobster Dip 27 years ago on East End Beach in Portland. The annual event caught on, and more than a decade ago moved to Old Orchard Beach to accommodate the crowd.

“You can’t help but come back each year,” said Frenzilli, who said he’s always one of the first dippers in the water. “It warms your heart to know you’re helping Special Olympics succeed in their goals.”

Kelly MacVane joined Frenzilli in leading the crowd into the water in honor of her father, Peter MacVane, who helped start the Lobster Dip and was an enthusiastic supporter of Special Olympics. MacVane, a South Portland police officer, died of cancer in 2012.

Kelly MacVane wore his police vest over a purple sequined tutu – an outfit she said was much tamer than the elaborate getups her father sported during his dips. She also led the double-dippers, those brave enough to go back in a second time, something her father always did.

As dippers registered before the event, Special Olympian Jeffrey Duplisea waited patiently, towel in hand. This is the fourth year the 28-year-old Falmouth resident has partnered with his cousin’s fiancée to do the dip.

Duplisea, who raised $500 for Special Olympics, takes part in the summer and winter games, competing in events that include cross-country skiing, running and shot put.

His mother, Nancy Duplisea, said Special Olympics does a lot for people in Maine and she appreciates the support of the Lobster Dip participants.

“It’s just a great place for the athlete and the people who support them to come together and raise money,” she said.

Last year, dippers raised more than $80,000 to support the programs of Special Olympics Maine, which helps 3,800 adults and children with intellectual disabilities. The Lobster Dip raised more than $1 million in its first 26 years.

Lisa Bird, spokeswoman for Special Olympics Maine, said the organization wanted to surpass last year’s fundraising total. Last year was bitterly cold and about 50 fewer people than normal took part, she said.

“To have the temperature already double, the sun shining and no snow on the beach makes it perfect for jumping into the ocean in Maine,” she said.

Dressed in a red cape and blue mask, Rhianna Smith, 8, of Scarborough wasn’t fazed by the weather. Last year she was the youngest dipper, so she knew what to expect, Rhianna said.

“I know it’s going to be cold,” she said.

In the last 10 minutes before the dip, Team Santa – Frey, girlfriend Janet Vigeant and her sister, Ann Lucas – hopped from foot to foot trying to keep warm. The first-time dippers saw the event last year and thought it would be a fun way to support Special Olympics. Their Christmas-themed costumes were a nod to Frey, who has worked as Santa for the past 40 years.

Vigeant and Lucas, dressed as Santa’s helpers in green knee socks and Grinch T-shirts, told each other to think warm.

“Think Alabama thoughts,” Vigeant said, referencing the 62-degree weather that Lucas left behind at home in Alabama. Two minutes later, they were running into the ocean. They came out smiling and shivering and posed for a few photos before bundling back up in their Santa jackets.

“We have to do this again,” Vigeant said. “But no double-dipping. That’s nuts.”

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