LOUISIANA La. — Phil Beridon isn’t crazy. His daughter might disagree at times, but Beridon says that it’s his passion for his alma mater and Acadiana that moves him to jump into Cypress Lake each year.
“I jump to remind you that Acadiana is a great place to get an education and is a great place to live,” he told the students gathered outside of the Student Union at University of Louisiana.
As a curious crowd of about 75 students counted down “10, nine ...,” Beridon did a little booty shake and flailed his arms in the air.
Clad in a headband, wristbands, gray sweats and a red jersey with the number 30 and word “YEARS” on the back, Beridon jumped front first into the lake. Then mid-air, he turned his body, flopping onto his back as he hit the water. It’s his “patented twist,” he said.
He skipped his usual tuxedo for a retro look in honor of the 30th anniversary of Lagniappe Day.
The day was stretched out into a week that wrapped up Thursday with Beridon’s jump, a crawfish boil and a concert with Rockin’ Dopsie Jr.
Beridon is such a legend on campus that Nicole Nelson and her classmate Charles Braus took a break between classes to watch the flop.
“I just think it’s cool,” Braus said. “I’ve watched him the past two or three years do it. I’d do it.”
For those who wonder why he does it, Beridon says, “I love UL, I love Acadiana.”
Before taking his leap, he gave the students standing in front of his makeshift pulpit a history lesson of the Lagniappe tradition that began 30 years ago when the NCAA imposed sanctions on the school’s basketball team.
“It was basically a two-year death sentence,” he said. The university decided to redirect the fees collected to support the team into a field day for students. It was the start of Lagniappe Day with games, music and boudin.
Beridon’s first leap into the lake wasn’t successful. That was in 1977, his second year at the university, when he jumped in for his friends who were filming a documentary at the lake. He didn’t jump out far enough, and landed in a shallow area of the pond, spraining his ankle. He was also nearly arrested.
“I was not under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or narcotics,” Beridon joked with the crowd.
Over the years, Beridon continued the jump changing his outfits from beach wear and medieval costumes to tuxedos. He dedicated this leap to Mike Flaherty, the superintendent of building services in the Student Union.
“If not for him, I’d still be jumping into the nastiest pond scum,” Beridon said. “It’s because of him and the Union that it can sustain plant and wildlife. That wasn’t the case 15 years ago.”
The lake is an on-campus habitat with alligators, turtles, birds and fish. The alligators sunning in the lake don’t scare Beridon, he said.
“Alligators and I have a very good understanding,” he said. “We appreciate each other’s space. The problem is the snapping turtles. The snapping turtles have an attitude. They don’t get it.”
Beridon, a retired state employee, is an optometrist at Wal-Mart Vision Center on Evangeline Thruway. He and his family live in Acadiana. His daughter, Amber, 18, will start at UL Lafayette in the fall, but there’s no chance of her taking over her father’s tradition, she said.
“He’s a little funny sometimes in the head,” Amber Beridon laughed.