An ice gesture! New Year’s ‘Polar Plunge’ raises $ for sick kids

Wet and wild: Hundreds will jump in the ocean this Jan. 1 as part of the Polar Bear Club’s annual New Year’s swim. In addition to some very cold flesh, expect some festive costumes, too.
Photo by Paul Martinka

They’re freezin’ for a reason.

Come New Year’s Day some 2,500 hot-blooded swimmers will usher in 2017 by diving into the People’s Playground’s frigid shore for charity at the Polar Bear Club’s 113th annual New Year’s Day Plunge. The Jan. 1 dunk will raise cash for Camp Sunshine, a Maine retreat for sick children and their families, and will expose thrill-seeking Brooklynites hot-headed enough to brave the icy waters to a new level of intensity, according to the club’s president.

“There’s a sense of absolute intensity you don’t get in day-to-day life,” said Dennis Thomas. “There’s a lot of stress in the city, but when you go into the water, you’re just feeling the intensity of the moment. You physically can’t think about rent, or bills, or rush hour — just the water.”

Steel-nerved swimmers assemble on the Boardwalk each year — some clad in polar bear suits and dressed as King Neptune and Baby New Year. Participants charge down the beach in waves of 500, dunk themselves in the frigid sea, weather the winter waters for as long as they can bear, and proudly dash out after a few minutes — bragging rights in tow.

But for those who are too scared — or too smart — to take the plunge, you can just dip a toe in the “Chicken Dip.”

And if being submerged in near-freezing water is more your speed, join the club for its weekly plunges — which draws up to 100 cold-ocean cannonballers on Sundays between November and April — and become a part of Coney’s living history, said Thomas.

“Coney Island historically has been the center of weirdness in the universe, and we’ve realized we’re contributing to the history here,” he said. “We’ve been around longer than the Wonder Wheel, longer than the Cyclone — we’re the oldest living landmark, and people really embrace that.”

Organizers say the club’s popularity has surged in recent years, and attendance on New Year’s day has swollen as a result. These days, the dip can get a little chaotic, but preparation is a shivering swimmer’s best hope for success.

There’s no locker space — so either bring a friend to watch your gear, or throw caution to the wind and leave it on the beach.

Participants will want to bring a pair of old sneakers to wade through the wintry waves — Thomas suggests neoprene boots — as well as a towel and plenty of warm clothes to bundle up in once you emerge.

Afterwards, stay in the nabe for some post-plunge festivities, including after-parties at the Coney Island Brewery and the Steeplecase Beergarden, and freaky performances at Sideshows by the Seashore. Deno’s Wonder Wheel will be up and running — weather permitting — with half the proceeds going to Camp Sunshine. All registered swimmers also get free admission to the New York Aquarium.

Polar Bears New Year’s Day Plunge (Boardwalk at Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island, www.polarbearclub.org) Jan. 1 at 1 pm. All swimmers must register in advance. Free.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Warm reception: The chilly New Year's Day swim regularly draws thousands.

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