Participants brave bone-chilling temperatures for annual Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

January 2, 2018 Jaime DeJesus
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Frigid weather? No problem.

It was only 15 degrees, but that didn’t stop hundreds of brave souls from near and far from participating in one of Brooklyn’s most beloved traditions, the Coney Island Polar Plunge. Now in its 115th year and hosted by the Polar Bear Club, a group founded in 1903, the event was held on Monday, January 1 on the beach at Coney Island, and it was one of the coldest days in the long storied tradition.

The Coney Island Polar Bear Club is the oldest winter bathing organization in the United States; members swim in the Atlantic Ocean at Coney Island every Sunday from November through April.

Although this year’s temperature was a far cry from last year’s plunge, when it was in the 40s, those who attended had a blast.

Dennis Thomas, president of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, described the day as a success despite a smaller turnout. “We had a very successful day out there. We had around 1,200 swimmers that participated,” he said. “To the best of my knowledge, everyone got in and out safely, which was the most important thing. I know New Jersey canceled a number of swims and I got a number of calls asking if we were going to cancel. My impulse was to say we were definitely on. We have never canceled a swim because of the weather. And we wanted to invited those disappointed people from New Jersey to come join us at Coney Island.”

“This tradition has always brought the bravest and most charitable souls to Coney Island, and this year we were able to raise funds for local nonprofits. It was once again a success and brought in 2018 in the best way — by plunging into the Atlantic in ‘America’s Playground’, Coney Island,” added added Alexandra Silversmith, executive director of the Alliance for Coney Island.

Onlookers took to social media to share their experiences.

“I decided to check out the Polar Bear Plunge at Coney Island to kick off the New Year,” wrote Ellen Q. (@Qbertplaya) via Twitter. “It was damn cold (15°F!), crowded, but super fun to watch.”

Thomas did notice a dip in attendance due to the frigid temperatures. “We’ve had New Year’s that were comparable to this,” he said. “I believe 2009 was also in the teens. And we were lucky to have some sunshine that warmed things up a little bit. The numbers were probably half of what they were last year. I’m not surprised that the numbers dropped off.”

This year, Coney Island Polar Plunge partnered with the Alliance for Coney Island and raised funds for the New York Aquarium which, Thomas noted, “is still recovering from Superstorm Sandy in many ways,” as well as Coney Island USA, and other community based groups yet to be determined.

Thus far, the Coney Island Polar Bear plunge has raised around $43,000.

“Given the proportion of people that showed up, I think they were generous and we have to be grateful about that,” Thomas said.

“It not only went well. It made international news,” noted Dick Zigun, founder of Coney Island USA. “That event has been going on for about 114 years. It’s never been canceled no matter how extreme the weather. It’s the original. We are the home of many types of American popular culture, especially odd ball pop culture, and we take it seriously.”

“It’s the Times Square of Polar Bear Plunges,” added Thomas.

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