Splashy start to the year: Coney polar plunge draws record-setting crowd

Splashy start to the year: Coney polar plunge draws record-setting crowd
Photo by Erica Price

They plunged into the new year — and the history books!

A record-breaking number of Brooklynites barreled into the icy Atlantic Ocean from Coney Island Beach on Jan. 1, during this year’s New Year’s Day Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge.

Some 3,800 divers took dips, according to organizers, who said the grand total was more than three times the number of people who came out last year, and the highest number of participants since the annual event’s first installment in 1903.

“By all accounts we had a fantastic day out there,” said Greenpointer Dennis Thomas, the president of Coney Island’s Polar Bear Club.

Thomas credited the day’s balmy air temperature, which hovered in the 50s, and 45-degree waters as two factors that led to the massive turnout, along with the crowd of supportive locals whose cheers helped plungers take their final difficult steps from sand into water.

And following their dunks, participants who did not warm up with the help of dry towels alone got their body temperatures to rise by grooving to classic-rock tunes spun by DJ Metropolitan Sound, whose music filled the air long after the last plunger escaped the water, Thomas said.

“On a day like yesterday, you had people dancing on the [Riegelmann] Boardwalk long after the event’s complete,” he said.

The record number of swimmers — who included Borough President Adams, and this newspaper’s editor-in-chief and arts editor — will likely in turn result in this year’s plunge netting the highest amount of donations ever collected at the fund-raising event, according to Thomas, who said his club already exceeded the $80,000 goal it set for the 2019 plunge.

One first-timer said her dip turned out to be far more bearable than she expected, thanks to the strong sense of togetherness forged among participants fearless enough to face the frigid wet stuff.

“It was amazing — the water was really not that bad, and the atmosphere isn’t like any other day ever in Coney Island,” said Alexandra Silversmith, the executive director of the Alliance for Coney Island, which will split funds raised by the plunge with other local organizations including the New York Aquarium, Coney Island USA, and the Coney Island History Project.

Another ocean explorer who returned for the second year said she came back to see the smiles frozen on the faces of participants after they finished their swims.

“It’s just a fun day — there’s a lot of really good energy,” said Queens resident Candy Brigham, who dove into the water wearing a flotation device designed to look like an octopus that she made with balloons. “It’s a good way to start off the year, with so much positivity.”

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.