The famously frigid Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge was a bit less bracing this year, as temperatures neared a balmy 50 degrees at the beach.
Plungers went tearing down the beach and into the Atlantic Ocean Sunday morning, encouraged by sunny skies. The high temperatures did not break the record for this day – 62 degrees of 1966 – but it was still a relief for the thousands of people who showed up for the 120th annual event. The water remained a bracing 43 degrees.
“I think all the people in New York City who are chicken and have been wanting to do this and never did it, today's the day to show up,” Dick Zigun, the self-proclaimed “permanently unelected mayor of Coney Island,” told Gothamist. “It's an easy way to get your certificate."
The new, pandemic-era plunge is designed to encourage a bit of distancing among the Polar Bears. Rather than packing together at the top of the sand and sprinting in a huge wave down a narrow chute into the water, as was the tradition before the pandemic, the event is now more of an "open swim," with revelers encouraged to jump in at any time between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. across a wide stretch of beach.
It was the "fourth or fifth" plunge for Long Island resident Michele Rosello. "If you get into the water the first day of the year, you set it right. Every time I've done this I've had an excellent year.
The pregaming began at least an hour before the initial plunge, with dancing and drinking on the boardwalk. The all-women Brazilian Samba Reggae drum line Fogo Azul showed up on the beach to encourage the swimmers. And the warm weather brought out more people than they could remember. "Oh my god!" said Natalie Velasquez, who came to the beach from Midwood with a bunch of friends. "It's invigorating! It's stimulating! It's very cold! Ice cold! We're bringing in the New Year with a lot of energy!"
The plunge is always free, but every year the Polar Bear Club raises money on New Year's Day (donations this year were at more than $82,000 at press time) for local organizations like the New York Aquarium, the Alliance for Coney Island, Coney Island USA, and the Coney Island History Project.