OLD ORCHARD BEACH - Sunny skies, tempered by a brisk wind and air temperature just above freezing, greeted roughly 400 people who ran into the surf here for the annual Lobster Dip fundraiser for Special Olympics Maine.

The New Year’s Day ocean plunge was Maine’s original cold-water fundraiser when it began with about 15 participants in 1988. Today’s plunge marked the 25th anniversary of the event, which started at Portland’s East End Beach and was moved here 11 years ago.

It since has grown to become the largest fundraiser of its kind in the state, raising nearly $100,000 last year.

Participants and spectators enjoyed a festive, eclectic atmosphere: Loudspeakers pounded out “Gangnam Style” and other pop music standards. A cross-country skier slid along the snow, as men and women clad only in bathing suits mingled a few feet away in the sand. A group dressed in red lobster outfits moved toward the water’s edge, surrounded by a circular curtain that symbolized a boiling pot.

As noon approached, dippers who were still dressed began to shed bathrobes and fleece jackets. The dip typically starts promptly, but the large crowd and crush of late registrants pushed the countdown to 12:10, leaving more time to shiver.

“It’s sunny, so it fools you into thinking it’s warmer than it is,” said Lisa Bird, media relations director for Special Olympics Maine, observing the scene.

Max Slavotzki, who is from Belgium and is working in Old Orchard Beach, commented on the biting wind, as he stood waiting in red swim trunks only.

“I do it for the kids,” he said.

Kathleen Beecher, dressed as a lobster, and Shareen Lucas, posing as Wonder Woman, noted one saving grace: Tuesday’s midday high tide made for a shorter run to the water. Both women are nurses at Mercy Hospital’s detox unit.

“I always wanted to do a lobster dip, and this keeps us sober on New Year’s Eve,” Beecher joked.

This year’s dip had a poignant pause. A moment of silence was observed for Peter MacVane, a South Portland police officer for 34 years who helped organize the first lobster dip. He died last month after a long battle with cancer.

In a brief ceremony, his daughter Kelly MacVane and Rocky Frenzilli, one of the original organizers, jumped into the water wearing swimsuits and police safety vests.

“It was cold,” MacVane said after running out. “My body’s in shock now, so it feels alright.”

In the stampede that followed, people piled into the 41-degree ocean, and most made a hasty exit. But others, including MacVane, returned to double dip.

Many participants then ran inside The Brunswick restaurant, which helps sponsor the event and hosts a post-dip party.

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be reached at 791-6462 or at:

tturkel@mainetoday.com