Coney Island

Despite insanely frigid temps, Polar Bears take annual Coney Island plunge

January 2, 2018 By John Alexander Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Swimmers descend into the Coney Island surf for a frigid New Year’s Day tradition. Eagle photos by Arthur De Gaeta

Hundreds head to icy Coney Island waters

Even an actual arctic polar bear may have questioned the plunge into the frigid Coney Island waves, as the thermometer hovered around 17 degrees with a water temperature of 37 degrees on New Year’s Day.

But leave it to the brave and stout-hearted individuals who did not hesitate to step out of their parkas and long johns and don swimsuits to participate in the annual New Year’s Day Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge.

The bitter cold temperatures kept the crowd down to around a 1,000 with hundreds more cheering them on from the shore. Some attendees may have been encouraged by the sunshine, shrugging it off as “not so bad.” Others, however, were noticeably shaken by the cold and salty surf.

For the big dip, folks came to Coney Island from all over the city, and places far away. They were encouraged to bring warm clothes, surf boots or old sneakers, towels and a camera to record their dive for posterity.  

The event began at 1 p.m. on Jan. 1 as swimmers gathered on the Boardwalk at Stillwell Avenue.

“Every year we come down to the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge because it’s such a fun time,” said Larry Vizel, on the boardwalk with two friends dressed as dinosaurs. “We dress in costumes and we love to jump in the ocean. This year it’s the coldest it’s ever been and we’re having a great time. ‘Jurassic Park’ is our theme this year and we can’t wait to get in the ocean no matter how cold it is.”

While icy dips for a good cause can be enjoyed in many locations throughout the country, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club is the oldest winter bathing organization in the U.S. The seasoned members of the Polar Bear Club enjoy swimming in the Atlantic every Sunday from November to April.

While there is no fee for swimmers or observers, there was a suggested $25 donation to benefit local Coney Island organizations including the New York Aquarium and the Alliance for Coney Island. And all participants were required to register in order to swim.

The NYC Parks Department provided changing facilities on the boardwalk at Stillwell Avenue. There was a post-dip celebration at the Coney Island Brewing Company & Steeplechase Beer Garden.

Special edition pint glasses and a commemorative long sleeve T-shirt were given to all participants who raised $100 courtesy of the Coney Island Brewery.

For those too frightened to take the full swim, there was free admission to the New York Aquarium for all registered attendees.

This year’s sponsors also included Coney Island Brewing, Deno’s Wonder Wheel, Luna Park, Steeplechase Beer Garden and the Alliance for Coney Island.

Dr. Takeshi Yamada attended this year’s event carrying a small stuffed furry rabbit under his arm. Coney Island was originally called “Rabbit Island,” because of the large population of rabbits that lived there. “This is why I’m here,” said Yamada. “I’m just happy to be here with the Coney Island Polar Bears.

Katherine Wentz, wearing 2018 glasses, echoed Yamada’s sentiments. “This is my first Polar Bear event,” she said. “I’m very excited to be here. I’m having a great time and I’m freezing.”

This was the 114th annual Polar Bear Plunge, a tradition that began in 1903.