While most spend New Year’s Day relaxing with family and friends, a select few are brave enough to take part in one of Coney Island’s oldest traditions: The Polar Bear Plunge.
Over 2,000 swimmers and 6,000 spectators turned up to the event, all eager to start 2014 in this unique way.
“It was a beautiful day on the beach, and the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge is happy to continue with a tradition that dates back to 1903,” said Dennis Thomas, president of the Polar Bear Club. “The NY Parks Department [was] very helpful in the winter and we were happy to facilitate all the participants.”
First-time plunger James Wagner, 21, braved the bone-chilling cold to “wash away [his] sins of 2013.”
“It was freezing cold, our legs and feet turned numb immediately, but it was also surprisingly refreshing,” Wagner said. “I think it will become a yearly tradition, followed by Roll-N-Roaster, obviously.”
Ridgite Chloe Pagano-Staltzer embraced her inner polar bear for the second time to ring in 2014.
“My friends got me to do it the first time and I had a lot of fun so I went again,” Pagano-Staltzer said. “[The water is] really shocking at first but once you get your head under it’s not so bad anymore. It’s a really nice way to start the New Year, plus it’s for a good cause.”
Between the bathers and spectators, The Polar Bear Club raised $63,000, $30,000 more than 2013, for Camp Sunshine. Camp Sunshine is a retreat in Maine for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families to attend. The proceeds are enough to send over 30 families to Camp Sunshine.
The fun isn’t just limited to New Year’s Day: the Polar Bear Club is the oldest winter bathing organization in the United States, and members swim every Sunday from November through April.