Coney Island’s Polar Bear Plunge returns for its 119th year

November 29, 2021 Jaime DeJesus
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Coney Island Plungers rejoice!

After having to take a year off from its traditional event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Annual Coney Island Polar Bear Club New Year’s Day Plunge is returning on New Year’s Day.

Last year, the event was held virtually.

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Now in its 119th year, the Plunge plans to have hundreds of participants once again brave the typically frigid temperatures and jump into the Coney Island water in the name of charity and welcoming in the new year. It also attracts hundreds of additional spectators to cheer on friends, families, and strangers. 

The typical stay in the water for most New Year’s Day Coney Island Plungers lasts 2 or 3 minutes, according to a Scientific American article from several years ago. The goal is not for participants to suffer, but for them to have fun. 

This year, the club is partnering with the Alliance for Coney Island and local non-profits. 

Participants can hardly contain themselves as they run into the water.Eagle file photos

The Polar Bear Club was founded in 1903. Its members swim in the Atlantic Ocean at Coney Island every Sunday from November through April. 

All funds from the event are raised to help support local nonprofits and communities by supporting a variety of initiatives.

“After so many months of stress, hardship, and uncertainty, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club invites all New Yorkers to join us in our New Year’s Day Plunge, purge the past, and establish an optimistic outlook for the new year,” said Dennis Thomas, the club’s president.

“There is no better way to separate the past from the future than a brisk plunge in the frigid Atlantic with fellow New Yorkers. We look forward to hosting the largest, most spirited plunge in our 119-year history,” he added.

This past summer, the Polar Bear Club awarded donations from its virtual event totaling more than $10,000 to nonprofits in the Coney Island area. It chose groups that demonstrate community leadership ranging from advocacy, public programming and educational resources to youth engagement. 

Locals were thrilled to hear news of the New Year’s event’s return. “I can’t wait,” wrote one person, simply, on Facebook.

There is no fee to participate in the plunge, but donations are encouraged. 

Once in the water, participants in the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge wade up to their mid-torso.Eagle file photos

Registration begins at 10 a.m., and the organizers recommend that all plungers arrive no later than noon at Stillwell Avenue and the Boardwalk. Participants must sign a waiver onsite on the day of the Plunge. Plungers under 18 years of age must have their parent or guardian present to sign the waiver the same day.

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During the 1990s and early 2000s, a local rabbi, Rabbi Abraham, formed a similar cold-water swimming club, the Brighton Beach Ice Breakers Club, in nearby Brighton Beach. Based on a search of the internet, that club may no longer be active.

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