The New Year's Day Polar Bear Plunge in Coney Island returned Saturday, with some pandemic-era modifications, after canceling last year.
It almost seemed like old times as hundreds of people tore off their clothes and ran into the Atlantic Ocean to start their new year with a chilly swim. While the air temperature was a balmy — albeit rainy — 53 degrees, the 46-degree water was cold enough to make it hurt so good.
"This was my first time," Sandra, a Bronx resident who wished to keep her last name private, told Gothamist, post-plunge, "and it was amazing! We all need a fresh start and I wanted to try something new."
She added, "The water is very cold and it feels like your legs are on fire, but don't think about it, just do it!"
To encourage distancing among the mostly-unmasked plungers, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club established some COVID-era modifications to the ritual. Rather than having massive waves of revelers run down a narrow chute, cheered on by crowds of spectators, Saturday's event was more of an "open swim." Registered participants were encouraged to jump in the water anytime between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., along a much wider swath of beach than usual.
Plunge veteran Eddie Boljonis from Staten Island had mixed feelings about the changes.
"This is my 20th Polar Bear and it's different today," he said. "It's lost some of its magic. I like more of a crowd, but at least it's something. Times are changing, it is what it is. Happy New Year! I'm freezing!"
There was a grim moment early in the event, according to the New York Post, when lifeguards administered CPR to an unresponsive man in the water. He was taken to Coney Island Hospital by an FDNY beach ambulance, The Post reported.
The day was mostly goofy fun with costumes, families, packs of friends diving in together, people dancing on the boardwalk, and plenty of liquid courage.
Gordon Heisler, 9, summed it up well. "I just went into the water at the Polar Bear Plunge in Coney Island. I love water and I love swimming and I love Coney Island. This is my first Polar Bear. I am freezing cold."