The annual Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge returned to the southern shores of Brooklyn on New Year’s Day, and participants could not have asked for better conditions. With clear skies and a high of around 55 degrees, the day felt less arctic than in some years past. But the Atlantic waters, still cooled by the recent bomb cyclone, were hardly warm.
We know because we went in, too.
“I’ve been watching people do this since I was a little kid here in Brooklyn,” Tom Rigney told us. “I suppose it’s better than sitting at home stuffing your face with bagels.”
Tom Rigney and Robin Bady (by Alex Kent)
Sunday marked the 120th anniversary of the traditional chills-and-thrills dip organized by the Coney Island Polar Bear Club. Attendance was in the thousands and, anecdotally, among the highest in years. Swimmers (and their spectators) came in an array of outlandish costumes — a summertime Santa, dominatrix bunny rabbits, mermaids and, well, polar bears.
By Alex Kent
“This is one of the things I’ve wanted to do on my bucket list,” Mike from the Bronx told us. “I’m 63-years-old and I’m filling my bucket list up … My toes are cold but I don’t feel that cold.”
The event, which was first held in 1903, was canceled in 2021 due to the pandemic and returned, albeit at a smaller scale, last year. The Polar Bear Plunge is free to participate in, but it also serves as a fundraiser for community non-profits. Proceeds from Sunday’s event will benefit the New York Aquarium and the Alliance for Coney Island, which produces more than 30 free events for the public each year. In the days ahead of the chilly swim, participants had raised some $15,000 in pre-registration.
One of those participants — an “invigorated” Katie Ryan, who lives near Rockaway — told us it was her third time doing the dip. “The first time I did it I was hooked. I love it,” she said. “This is like New Year’s Eve to me. It’s so fun. The energy out here is awesome.”
Katie Ryan (by Alex Kent)
Here are a few more scenes from Sunday’s plunge, all shot by photographer Alex Kent.