Ice, ice, baby! Thousands expected to plunge into the New Year at annual Coney Island swim

woman at coney island polar bear plunge with balloons
The freezing cold plunge is an annual tradition for Coney Islanders and New Yorkers from all over the city.
Photo by Erica Price

Talk about a cold opening to 2024.

Four thousand New Yorkers are expected to brave the cold of the Atlantic Ocean on New Year’s Day for Coney Island’s 121st annual Polar Bear Plunge.

There is no fee to participate in the plunge but donations are requested, according to organizers who have so far raised $32,000. The Coney Island Polar Bear Club said they are hoping to exceed last years total of $126,000.

“We like to think that tourists go to Times Square on New Year’s Eve but real New Yorkers are the ones that show up at Coney Island on New Year’s Day,” Dennis Thomas, president of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, told Brooklyn Paper ahead of the Jan. 1 swim.

“It’s a great way to leave the past behind with a very sharp break,” he said of the plunge which he has been partaking in for the last forty years. “I think everybody has their own reasons for doing it. I know for me, it’s a way of clearing my head, especially on New Years.”

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.

Swimmers make their way into the icy waters in 2023.File photo by Erica Price

This coming Sunday they are expecting four thousand participants in the water and some 10,000 spectators on the beach.

The Coney Island Polar Bear Club — which boasts the distinction as the longest-running winter bathing club in the country — doubles the annual swim as a fundraiser to benefit local non-profits.

Some of the organizations that will receive a portion of the proceeds from the fundraising include 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.

“New Yorkers love nothing more than a challenge and taking the plunge with the Polar Bears of Coney Island is one of the city’s oldest and most fun,” said Daniel Murphy, executive firector of the Alliance for Coney Island and partner in the event. “Please make it your first resolution of 2024 to join us in Coney Island on New Year’s Day.”

The Polar Bear Plunge looked a little different back in the ’70s.Barbara Rosenberg/Coney Island History Project

For those interested in taking the plunge this New Year’s Day, online pre-registration is open until midnight on Dec. 31, while day-of registration will begin at 10:30 a.m. inside Luna Park in Coney Island on Stillwell Avenue.

Street closures on Stillwell Avenue between Surf and the Boardwalk will be in effect until early afternoon, and plungers and spectators are encouraged to arrive early.

Once registrants check-in and receive their wristbands, plungers can take to the water as many times as they want between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“You can be there early for a big rush, you can come later in the morning for a quieter, more private swim with friends and family. It’s really up to you,” said Thomas.