Hundreds of New Yorkers washed off the ichor of 2021 in the freezing Atlantic Ocean at the annual Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day.
“It’s a fantastic way to start the new year, a plunge in the cold ocean will really leave everything behind that you want to leave behind,” said Dennis Thomas, president of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, ahead of the plunge. “And I know a lot of people want to get past this year.”
The icy fundraiser was canceled last year because of the pandemic, and returned to celebrate the new year with precautions in place: the swim took place over a number of hours and across a wide stretch of beach, a departure from the traditional stampede down a narrow pathway into the frigid waves.
Hosted by the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, who bill themselves as the country’s oldest “winter bathing” organization, since 1903, the swim is free to participate in but encourages donations for the neighborhood’s nonprofits and community organizations, including the Coney Island History Project and the Alliance for Coney Island.
While the seaside nabe is best known for its oceanfront amusement parks and historic boardwalk, with a poverty rate near 30 percent and recovery from Hurricane Sandy still in progress nearly a decade after punishing flooding and winds devastated the coast, donations are much-needed and well used. More than $47,000 was raised by chilly bathers this year, and donations are still open, with a goal of $80,000 for any Coney Island enthusiasts with a resolution to be more philanthropic in the new year.
But, of course, what the plunge is best known for is its fun. Long-returning swimmers mark the start of each new year with a salty shock to the system, and Brooklynites gather with friends and family, in bathing suits or, in some cases, full-body polar bear costumes to brave the Atlantic’s embrace.
This year’s weather was a little warmer than usual, with the air hovering around 55 degrees on New Year’s Day. And while the ocean’s temperature was about two degrees above average, it was still a much-less-than-comfortable 46 degrees when the polar bears waded in, and relieved swimmers wrapped themselves in towels and sweatshirts as they huddled on the beach once their plunge was done.
Lifeguards rescued a man who collapsed a few minutes after entering the water, according to the New York Post, and emergency responders performed CPR on the unresponsive swimmer before taking him to nearby Coney Island Hospital by ambulance.
“Everyone missed it last year we were so sad but the conditions just weren’t right but things are all looking good for January 1, Thomas told Brooklyn Paper, when the club decided the 2022 plunge was going ahead. “There is no better way to separate the past from the future than a brisk plunge in the frigid Atlantic with fellow New Yorkers.”