PHOTOS: Thousands ‘wash off the old year’ at 120th annual Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

2023 polar bear plunge
Thousands of people rang in the New Year at the 120th annual Polar Bear Plunge in Coney Island on Jan. 1, 2023.
Erica Price

Thousands of New Yorkers flocked to Coney Island on Sunday to participate in the 120th annual Polar Bear Plunge, starting the New Year with a splash in the freezing cold Atlantic Ocean. 

The Coney Island Polar Bear Club, the oldest winter bathing group in the country, has been hosting the yearly icy swim since 1903 — and now uses the event as a fundraiser for local community organizations like the Alliance for Coney Island, the New York Aquarium, and the Coney Island History project. The famous plunge has raised more than $500,000 for the community in the last 10 years alone, helping to keep those organizations and the programs they run each year up and running. 

man in NYE hat at polar plunge
The plunge gives New Yorkers the chance to wash off the old year and set their intentions for the brand new one, swimmers told Brooklyn Paper. Erica Price
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. Erica Price

“The Alliance for Coney Island is proud to partner on this great event,” said Steve Cohen, chairman of the Alliance for Coney Island and Vice President of the Brooklyn Cyclones. “The Polar Bear Plunge marks the official start of the New Year in Coney Island and is a fun event, even for those not brave enough to take the plunge. We appreciate all the support from fundraisers that help our local non-profits.”

Some of those who did jump into the chilly waters — the temperatures of the waves hovered around 41 degrees Fahrenheit that morning  —  said that the event was a great way to start out the new year with a fresh slate.

“A dip in the ocean can make you feel so refreshed,” Laura from Coney Island told Brooklyn Paper on Sunday. “You kind of wash off the old year in a way and it’s fun seeing how many people turn out and feel the same way each year. This year I want to be more present with friends and family and I think coming here with them is a great start to that.”

women at polar plunge
The Atlantic Ocean was a chilly 41 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday morning, but the cold is the point for dedicated plungers. Erica Price
drummers on beach at polar plunge
Local musicians and groups kept the mood lively as thousands of swimmers dove into the waves on New Year’s Day. Erica Price

Other Plungers said they can see the event becoming a crucial part of how they celebrate the beginning of the year.

“This is my second time doing the Polar Plunge and I can see it becoming a tradition for me,” said participant Jose after jumping into the ocean on New Year’s Day. “This year I want to be kinder to myself so that I can also be kinder to others. I think [the Polar Bear Plunge] is a good way to start that since I’m doing something fun for me but also I donated to the charities as well.”

Swimmers and their supporters have raised a whopping $84,000 so far this year, and online donations continue through Jan. 8. 

people in polar bear masks at polar plunge
Swimmers dove in in bathing suits, polar bear costumes, and more. Erica Price
man's legs as he dives into ocean
Swimmers said the plunge helped them to set the tone for a brand-new year.Erica Price

The iconic plunge was canceled due to the pandemic in 2021, and returned in a new format last January — the crowd was smaller, and, rather than all swimmers running into the ocean at once, as they had in years past, they were able to enter the sea whenever they were ready over a number of hours. This year, the plunge started at 11 a.m. and concluded at 2 p.m., with swimmers taking the leap in groups over the whole three-hour span. 

swimmers face wave at polar plunge
Brave plungers said they hope to recruit their friends and family to make the icy swim an annual tradition. Erica Price
people run into waves at polar plunge
So far, swimmers and their supporters have raised more than $84,000 for local organizations. Erica Price

“Remember, on New Year’s Eve, tourists go to Times Square, but real New Yorkers show up at Coney Island to embrace the sea on New Year’s Day,” said Polar Bear Club president Dennis Thomas ahead of the event.