Brookynites celebrate new year with annual polar bear plunge

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Chilly!: Thousands of swimmers dove into Coney Island’s icy waters on New Year’s Day 2020.
Photo by Erica Price

It was a cold opening to the new decade!

Thousands of teeth-chattering Brooklynites rang in the new decade by braving the frigid Coney Island waters for the Polar Bear Plunge — which has become an annual tradition for thrill-seeking revelers looking to kick off the new year, according to one swimmer.

“At this point, it’s kind of a New Year’s tradition to start the new year off by challenging yourself,” said Bay Ridgite Matt Huff, who uses the event each year as a reunion for him and about a dozen high school friends. 

Midday temperatures hovered above freezing as the winter-time beach-goers hit the shores, making the 116th installment of the dive slightly more tame than some colder years, according to recurring attendee.

“The first time I took the plunge, there was snow everywhere, so this time it wasn’t that bad,” said Bronx resident Waleska Rolden. “It was lot of fun.”

The 43-degree water especially tame compared to 2018, when land conditions dropped to a  bone-chilling 7-degrees, according to the president of the Polar Bear Club, which organizes weekly swims in Coney Island throughout the winter. 

“We had a sunny day and decent turnout,” said Dennis Thomas.

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Mime time: A group of swimmers dressed up as mimes for the Polar Bear Plunge. Photo by Erica Price

Around 3,000 people descended on the beach for this year’s event, with many donning creative costumes, bringing food, and dancing to the DJ on the boardwalk. 

“The whole event was great,” said Bay Ridge resident John Lubrano, who jumped into the water dressed as New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. “Tons of positivity.” 

To encourage swimmers to enter the water, rows of drummers played motivational music, according to Thomas. 

“It provides that last burst of energy before they get into the cold water,” he said. 

Many swimmers said that they liked participating in the plunge because the cold water gave them a refreshing start to the new year.

“2019 was difficult year for me and my family, so I wanted to start this year out with a bang,” said Rolden. 

The plunge raises money for local organizations — such as the Alliance for Coney Island, the New York Aquarium, Coney Island USA, and the Coney Island History Project — and this year, the event raised more that $80,000 through donations, according to Thomas.  

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A couple holds a sign in honor of the Polar bear lunge next to the Latvian flag. Photo by Erica Price
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The district manager of Community Board 13, Eddie Mark, dressed as a polar bear for the annual plunge. Photo by Erica Price
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Participants wore costumes and bikinis during the Jan. 1 plunge, where temperatures averaged 37 degrees.Photo by Erica Price
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During the event, shifts 500 participants would run into the ocean at once. Photo by Erica Price
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One swimmer dressed at the Statue of Liberty for the icy dive. Photo by Erica Price