Coney Island’s Polar Bear Plunge canceled amid COVID-19

polar bear plunge
The 2021 Polar Bear Plunge has been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo by Erica Price

Coney Island’s popular Polar Bear Plunge will not take place this coming New Year’s Day because of concerns about mass gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, its organizers said. 

“While we are deeply disappointed that our great New Year’s tradition will not be taking place in 2021, we know this is the right decision to make for the health and safety of our members, thousands of attendees, and tens of thousands of spectators who show up for this event every January 1st,” said Dennis Thomas, the president of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club.

The 117-year-old tradition draws thousands of swimmers to Coney Island’s beach each year to brave the frigid Atlantic Ocean temperatures — which can reach 45 degrees or below.

The lively event — which features creative costumes, DJs, dancing, and food — has become a beloved tradition among many attendees, who say they go to the plunge to ring in the new year and reunite with friends.

polar bear plunge
Swimmers often don fun costumes during the annual Polar Bear Plunge.Photo by Erica Price

“At this point, it’s kind of a New Year’s tradition to start the new year off by challenging yourself,” Bay Ridgeite Matt Huff told Brooklyn Paper last year, adding that he goes to the event each year to see about a dozen high school friends. 

The plunge also raises needed funds for local nonprofits, including the Alliance for Coney Island, the New York Aquarium, Coney Island USA, and the Coney Island History Project. Last year, the event raised more than $80,000 in total, Thomas told Brooklyn Paper. 

Instead of the plunge, the Polar Bear Club — which has also canceled its weekly swims in the frigid Atlantic Ocean this year because of the pandemic — will team up with the Alliance for Coney Island to host an online fundraiser at www.PolarBearClub.org, where donors can give money or buy Polar Bear Plunge merchandise.

The funds from the effort will go towards educational programming, local cultural institutions, free public events such as Friday Night Fireworks, and Coney Island businesses struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers said.  

This year’s plunge may be canceled, but Thomas said that next year’s plunge in 2022 will be among the best ones yet.

“We will be back bigger and stronger in 2022,” he said. “Until then, we urge all our former and future participants to help us continue to support non-profits in the Coney Island community by [visiting our website].”