Bear necessities: How to join the Polar Bear’s Plunge on Jan. 1 • Brooklyn Paper

Bear necessities: How to join the Polar Bear’s Plunge on Jan. 1

Beach stand: Last year, thousands braved the chilly waters off Coney Island on New Year’s Day.
Photo by Milo Hess

Make a splash!

More than 2,000 brave souls will dive into the frigid waters at Coney Island beach on Jan. 1 as part of a more-than-century-old tradition, the New Year’s Day Plunge. Submerging yourself in the ice cold ocean is an awakening like no other — the perfect activity to kick-start a new year, said the president of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, which hosts the event.

“Everyone has their own reason, but for me it’s this sense of absolute intensity and immediacy and it’s also an experience that’s so different from what all of us do every day,” said Dennis Thomas, who lives in Greenpoint. “It’s not about jobs, paying rent, not about the subways, not about relationships, it’s an experience that is really different from everything else — that takes you to a different place.”

Members of the swim club plunge into the bitter waters every Sunday from November through April, but for the New Year’s Day extravaganza they usually cede the surf and spend time organizing the hordes of once-a-year swimmers, said Thomas, who plans to dive into the ocean on New Year’s Eve for the club’s usual Sunday swim.

New Year’s Day bathers must first sign a waiver, as required by the Parks Department, before charging into the polar waters in groups of about 500. Most people stay in the water for no more than five minutes, said Thomas.

“New Year’s Day, people get in and get out pretty quick, most don’t stay in more than a couple minutes,” he said. “It’s really get, in splash around, and get out fast.”

But no matter how long you can stand in the surf before losing feeling in your toes, it is still an accomplishment to brag about, said Thomas.

Taking the plunge: Our reporter Caroline Spivack was among the 2,500 who braved the icy waters at Coney Island beach for the Polar Bear Club’s New Year’s Day plunge in 2017.
Photo by Milo Hess

“It’s a great experience for New Yorkers, it’s a New York tradition, and we welcome everyone to come and check this off their bucket list or use it as bragging rights against their friends,” he said.

All participants should show up at the beach near Stillwell Avenue between 10 am and noon to register for the event and sign the waiver, wearing a bathing suit and ready to hit the water at the 1 pm start time. Everyone should also bring a set of warm clothes, a towel, a camera to document the moment, and old sneakers to protect their feet from the freezing temperatures, said Thomas.

“We recommend having like an old pair of sneakers or surf boots, something to insulate your feet, a little insulation there goes a long way — other than that, bathing suits will do just fine,” he said.

Entry into the Atlantic Ocean is free, but the Polar Bear Club encourages donations that support the Coney Island community, including the New York Aquarium and the Alliance for Coney Island.

After drying off, swimmers can grab a bite at local eateries like Tom’s, Ruby’s Bar and Grill, Nathan’s or the Steeplechase Beer Garden, said Thomas, and the Coney Island Brewery will host an after-party featuring a spicy Belgian ale called “The Plunge.”

Polar Bear Plunge [Riegelmann Boardwalk near Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island, (917) 533–3568, www.polarbearclub.org]. Jan. 1 at 1 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
No sweat: These folks faced the freezing waters Polar Bear Plunge with a smile.
Photo by Paul Martinka

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