Warmer Temperatures Help Coney Island Polar Bears Welcome in the New Year

Nearly 4,000 brave-hearted individuals helped welcome in 2019 by running into the cool surf in Coney Island on New Year’s Day.

Thankfully, this year’s Polar Bear Plunge was decidedly warmer than last year’s frigid swim. In fact, the temperature was a balmy 59° after last year’s frosty 37° and the water was a veritable sauna compared to 2018’s icy 17° temps.

Some hardy souls were dressed in colorful swimsuits and headwear, while others brought their pets along for the plunge. There were revelers of all kinds including dancers, drummers and puppeteers, along with representatives from the Girl Scouts of America and other organizations.

Suzie Sims Fletcher came dressed in a blue polar bear suit, claiming she was a “Mer-Bear” searching for a polar bear.

“I’ve attended the Mermaid Parade for almost 20 years but this is my first time attending the Polar Bear swim,” she said.  “When I heard the temperature for Sunday was going to be 59°, I said, ‘hey, why not, I’m going.’”

The event brought out revelers of all ages ranging from toddlers and teens to salt water-loving seniors. A shirtless Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams took a brief dip into the waves, and yes, even Elvis was there to get “All Shook Up.”

For the big dip, folks came to Coney Island from all over the city, and places far away. They were encouraged to bring warm clothes, surf boots or old sneakers, towels and a camera to record their dive for posterity.

Roberto Velazquez proudly carried the American flag into the surf, while the drum band Fogo Azul NYC kept a steady beat as the polar bears lined up at the starting line for the signal to begin.

The event began at 1 p.m. on Jan. 1 as swimmers gathered on the Boardwalk at Stillwell Avenue.

Brooklyn resident Jon Rosenblum, who makes the yearly pilgrimage to Coney Island, called the plunge a priority. “I haven’t missed one yet,” he said. “I love it.”

Standing on the boardwalk in his bathing trunks, Rosenblum rubbed himself down with Vaseline. “This helps when you come out of the water because that’s when you feel the chill,” he added.

While icy dips for a good cause can be enjoyed in many locations throughout the country, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club is the oldest winter bathing organization in the U.S. The seasoned members of the Polar Bear Club enjoy swimming in the Atlantic every Sunday from November to April.

There was no fee for swimmers or observers, although there was a suggested $25 donation to benefit local Coney Island organizations including the New York Aquarium, the Alliance for Coney Island, Coney Island USA, the Coney Island History Project, and other local arts and history organizations. All participants were required to register in order to swim.

This was the 115th annual Polar Bear Plunge, a tradition that began in 1903.

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