Cold acquaintance! Polar Bear Club holds annual New Year’s Day plunge

Cold acquaintance! Polar Bear Club holds annual New Year’s Day plunge
Photo by Lori Birnbaum

Call them “Da Brrrs!”

Some 2,000 hot-blooded swimmers celebrated the start of 2014 by diving into the 39-degree waters at the People’s Playground’s shore in the 111th annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge.

The Jan. 1 dunk is the biggest event of the year for the Coney Island Polar Bear club, which normally draws 80–100 cold-ocean jumpers to each of its weekly Sunday swims between November and April. Organizers said the New Year’s plunge has seen a rising tide of popularity in the past decade, as the club’s publicity has swelled and Sodom by the Sea’s reputation as a destination has surged.

“Once, when we had 60 or 100 members show up, we thought that was huge,” said club president Dennis Thomas, a 30-year-veteran of the frigid dipping group. “This is a New York tradition we have worked hard to grow and continue.”

Thomas described hitting the wintry waves as simultaneously jarring and relaxing, as the raw experience takes the swimmer’s mind away from daily cares.

“Being in water like that is just utter intensity and immediacy,” said Thomas. “It just take you to a different place.”

But the cold, cold water belies the Polar Bears’ warm hearts. For the past eight years, the club has asked swimmers and their families pledge money for Camp Sunrise, a free Maine retreat for seriously-ill children and their parents — and on Wednesday the group raised a whopping $65,000 — almost three times the amount collected in 2013.

“It was a huge year,” said Thomas, praising the staff at Camp Sunrise. “They are just the greatest team to work with. There’s so many people who work there who do it just out of care and love.”

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.
Wash-out: Skies were gray, but the Plunge raised funds for Camp Sunshine, which serves terminally ill children.
Photo by Lori Birnbaum