It’s time to take the plunge into 2019! To mark the start of the new year, I made the achingly long subway ride to Coney Island to take part in the Polar Bear Club New Year’s Day Plunge.
2019 marks the 115th year of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club New Year’s Day Plunge. Each year, the Polar Bear Club (the oldest winter bathing club in the country - no joke, these guys/gals swim in the ocean every single Sunday from November through April, no matter what the weather is like) invites the public to take part in a free plunge on New Year’s Day. Starting in 2005, the plunge was used to raise funds for the Special Olympics. This year, donations went to support the Coney Island community, including the New York Aquarium, Alliance for Coney Island, Coney Island USA, Coney Island History Project, and other local arts and history organizations.
I know the vast majority of things I’ve done in New York (and blogged about here) have been on my own, but for the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge, I had to make it a group affair. I guess you could do the polar bear plunge as a solo adventure, but it’s way more fun to dive into freezing water/scream at the shock of the cold in the company of others. That, and it’s highly recommended that you have someone to watch your towel and other things on the beach. A few of us from the NYC Meetup subreddit wanted to go polar plunging, so off to Coney Island we went.
It’s worth mentioning that we got incredibly lucky with this year’s polar bear plunge. Last year, New Year’s Day was a toasty 10 degrees. This year, the temperatures were in the 50s (it was still pretty breezy), and the sun was out. That could be why there were literally thousands of people jumping in the Atlantic.
So, what is it like to do the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge? The day starts off with a good amount of waiting around. With so many participants/on-site registrants, it takes a little bit of time to get everyone in position. Once you sign in/sign your waiver/get your donation swag, you can walk around and do whatever while you wait for your wave time (the event starts at 1:00, and there are waves of swimmers every 5 minutes to keep everyone spaced out) to roll around. We wandered around the boardwalk and tried to stay warm while we wondered just how cold the water would be.
Before we knew it, it was time to strip down and get between the ropes to start the march down to the ocean. I know it’s January 1st, but it felt perfectly fine to be in a bathing suit on the beach. Then came the breeze, and away went that thought.
Lined up, all ready to go! At this point we were just saying “embrace the hurt” and starting to question our decision-making skills. Nothing like a little anticipation to start your year!
As someone who actively avoids the cold and is known to complain when the temperatures reach the low 70s, I was surprised that the water didn’t feel as miserable as I thought it would. Because of the big crowds and safety risks, swimmers have to walk (not run) into the water, which went against the “just dive in” approach I was going to take. I tried to rush in as quickly as possible so that I didn’t have to think about how the ocean might feel. I jumped, I laughed, and I cursed as my legs got super numb from the 45-degree water. After a little more than a minute (hey, that’s longer than I thought I’d last), I scampered back up the beach to my towel, feeling like I accomplished something really cool to start the new year.
If you’re thinking of doing the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge, I highly recommend adding it to your New York bucket list. There is so much great energy from everyone, with costumes and music and cheering from all parts of the beach. It’s an exciting way to kick off the new year, and the funds raised go towards a great cause.
Interested in more bucket list adventures in New York City? Follow along on Instagram at @fiveboroughbucketlist!