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Hollywood gives Groundhog Day a South Florida twist

In Hollywood, the groundhog was not hiding in its burrow.

Instead, the 6-foot tall huggable Punxsutawney Phil (aka Kevin Maloney) was tap dancing, mingling with guests and waiting for the crowd to jump in the water.

For the ninth year in a row, Hollywood has celebrated Groundhog Day on the beach by inviting locals and snowbirds to enjoy a 6:30 a.m. breakfast, watch the sunrise, get a quick dip in the water and raise funds for local lifeguards.

“We always wanted something beach-related,” said organizer Jeff Hansen, who fell in love with the tradition after celebrating it in Punxsutawney for seven years.

The first year he decided to do it in Hollywood beach, he only had two swimmers. “It’s all about having fun, just a great event for silly people.”

Although the Punxsutawney’s famous groundhog predicted early spring, the Hollywood beach groundhog decided that extending winter is going to be much better for the tourist.

Just like the tradition, the beach was crowded with men and women dressed in top hats and tuxedo tails, except here, they all wore their colorful bathing suits underneath. The children wore groundhog costumes, painted their cheeks with groundhog whiskers and took turns hugging Phil the groundhog.

“He is the biggest groundhog I ever saw,” said 7-year-old Olivia Cruz who was happy to wake up before 6 a.m. to come to Saturday’s Groundhog Day celebration. “I want six more weeks of winter — I don’t like the cold water but I do like the cold air.”

But the highlight of the morning was when the crowd gathered at the shoreline for the legendary swim, despite the 60-degree weather.

“It’s cold but I brought two towels and I’ll live,” said 71-year old Saundra Bishop, a snowbird from Chicago who wore a bright pink bathing suit. “I put it on my bucket list last year, so I had to do it.”

About 50 brave swimmers ran to the water at once, but it only took about 30 seconds for the majority of them to come running back out of the water.

“I love it, I love it,” shouted Leonard Younger from Fort Lauderdale who couldn’t contain his joy as he came out of the water. “I’m having such a good time!”

But while Younger lifted his hands to show his accomplishment, others shivered and ran to get towels and sweaters.

“It was cold. But we get together to have a good time for a good cause,” said Paul Schuman, a former lifeguard, who pulled on a big red hoodie after just seconds of being in the water.

In the end, no one knew what the official Punxsutawney’s famous groundhog prediction was, but that didn’t matter.

In Hollywood, the folklore says that the beach is good all year long.