PHOTOS: Coney polar plunge makes big splash with record-setting crowd and fundraising

NY : Annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge at Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY on January 1, 2024. Photo by Erica Price
More than $130,000 was raised by the some 6,000 swimmers who took part in the Coney Island Polar Bear Club’s 2024 New Year’s Day Plunge.
Photo by Erica Price

The Coney Island Polar Bear Club New Year’s Day Plunge broke all previous records for attendance and fundraising on Jan. 1 after 6,000 brave New Yorkers stormed the beaches, raising $136,000 to support local non-profit organizations.

Relatively mild weather brought more than 40,000 spectators to Coney Island, cheering on friends and family, as Fogo Azul, a New York City drum line, escorted the plungers from the boardwalk to the shore for their fresh start to 2024.

“The Coney Island Polar Bear Club raised approximately $136,000 to support local non-profit organizations, a record amount. We thank all of our supporters, all of our members, all of our safety teams, and lastly the participants from NYC and across the globe for making the 2024 Plunge a huge success,” Dennis Thomas, president of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, told Brooklyn Paper.

First-time plunger Diana Vasic from Queens decided to brave the cold of the Atlantic Ocean following some encouragement from her more seasoned brother, Ivan, who now has three plunges under his belt.

“I thought the water was amazing, I had to go in a second time,” she said, vowing to take part every year going forward. “Just take the plunge. Life is short. You’re never promised tomorrow, just enjoy life.”

Diana Vasic and her brother Ivan Dzopalic made it a family affair. Photo by Erica Price
Some swimmers had to get themselves pumped before taking to the wintry water. Photo by Erica Price

Another member of the first-timer’s club planning to return next year was Josh North from Brooklyn, who made the day-of decision to wash away the cobwebs of 2023, finding the water “brisk and invigorating.”

“It was a really good time. Everyone was in good spirits having a good time just enjoying themselves and no one seemed to be too cold or struggling with it. I definitely think it’s going to be a new tradition,” said North.

The record number of swimmers also included plenty of plunge veterans, famous faces like comedian Amy Poehler, and this newspaper’s digital editor, Kirstyn Brendlen.

Brendlen reported that she arrived in Coney Island in the late afternoon when the line for the official plunge had closed. She headed to the nearby beach to plunge where the water was just as cold, having already made her donation.

“There were probably a few hundred people on the beach right next to the section that was roped off for the official plunge, so I guess the same thing happened to a lot of people!” she said. “It was really such a good vibe, everyone was having fun and chatting and cheering for the people who were running into the water and there were a ton of people standing on the beach drying off and putting on a million layers to warm up.”

The “truly take-your-breath-away cold” of the water did not hit Brendlen until she was chest-deep but that sensation dissipated once she was back on shore and in the warmth of the afternoon sun.

“I decided to do it on a whim on Friday night, but it also really felt like kind of washing away the old year – I don’t think any lingering bad vibes could survive the water. I definitely plan to do it again next year and now some friends who weren’t sure are interested too so I am hoping to get a group together,” she added.

Josh North (L) donned more traditional swimming attire for his first plunge, while others made waves with their costumes. Photos by Erica Price
Relatively mild weather meant many swimmers plunged for longer than others. Photo by Erica Price
Two men huddled under an umbrella in the freezing water. Photo by Erica Price

Daniel Murphy, executive director of the Alliance for Coney Island and partner in the event, said the overwhelming turnout shows that Coney Island is NYC’s “most open and accessible playland no matter what the season or date.”

“With Luna Park open, Nathan’s franks being enjoyed and the Cyclone coaster roaring all day, January 1 could have been July 4 and it all goes to show that Coney Island is New York City’s most open and accessible playland no matter what the season or date,” Murphy said.

“Coney Island Polar Bears are a resilient and special breed and what sets them apart the most is their inclusiveness and generosity,” he added.

Started in 1903, the Coney Island Polar Bears swim in the icy waters of southern Brooklyn every Sunday from November to April, and open the beach on Jan. 1 to allow non-members to take part in what is now an annual tradition for many.

Participation every year is free but plungers are encouraged to make a donation — the generosity of New Yorkers this year surpassed 2023’s total of $126,000.

Funds raised this year will be divvied out among local organizations like the Alliance for Coney Island, the Coney Island YMCA for their after school program for local low-income children, the New York Aquarium’s seascape program which is designed to restore healthy populations of marine species and protect New York waters, and several others.

Over 40,000 spectators packed the beach at Coney Island.Photo by Erica Price
Wringing out the old year the right way.Photo by Erica Price