Wash away 2021 and dive into the New Year at the Coney Island Polar Bear Club's 119th Annual New Year's Day Plunge! "You are reborn when you come here," says Abiodun "Abi" Bello of the health benefits of cold water swimming in his oral history recorded by the Coney Island History Project in 2015.
Polar Bear Club president Dennis Thomas talks about the New Year's Day Plunge over the decades in his 2019 oral history. "It's been going on as long as anybody knows and it used to be just kind of an informal gathering of the Polar Bear Club itself. Then more people from the public," says Dennis, who began swimming with the Bears in the 1970s. "When I first started, if there were a hundred people there, we'd say, wow, this was huge. It's a bucket list thing. People want to do it once in their life and New Year's Day is a great day to do that."
There is no fee to participate but all funds raised help support local non-profits offering environmental, educational, and cultural programming including the New York Aquarium, the Coney Island History Project, Coney Island USA, Coney Island YMCA, and more.
This week the Polar Bear Club released updated safety guidelines for the event: "Our registration will open at 10am. From 11am until 2pm, we will open one large area of the beach with lifeguards. Once you pick up your wristband, you are welcome to plunge at your leisure between 11am and 2pm. We ask that all participants and spectators please practice social distancing guidelines and to wear masks (except when plunging)."
"Please do not plunge without signing a waiver and getting a wristband – parks enforcement can issue you a $150 ticket for not doing so. Spectators will be allowed in the plunge area. It is our hope that we will be able to return to our normal giant party in 2023 but in the meanwhile, let’s have the best time washing away 2021."
Visit http://polarbearclub.org to register in advance for the New Year's Day Plunge or make a donation.
Photo Credit: Abiodun Bello by AJ Bernstein Photos, 2021