Dennis Thomas

President of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club for the past 12 years and a member since the 1980s

Dennis Thomas, the president of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club for the past 12 years, shares memories of his first swim with the club - "That's crazy, I want to do it!"- and feeling drawn to the desolate yet haunting atmosphere of Coney Island in the 1970's.  He officially became a member in the early '80s and has been swimming with the Bears every Sunday, from November through April, ever since. Dennis recounts the history and lore of the 116-year-old club, the oldest winter bathing club in the U.S., and its eccentric founder Bernarr Macfadden. He describes the Coney Island characters who were Polar Bears in the 1970s and '80s. By that time, the club had dwindled to about 18 members. In the early '90s, the clubhouse was moved from a lifeguard station under the Boardwalk at Stillwell Avenue to various temporary locations before finding a home at the New York Aquarium. Today, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club is enjoying a resurgence, with 80-100 members attending Sunday swims and a record 3,800 swimmers at this year's annual New Year's Day Polar Bear Plunge. Registration for the 2020 New Year's Day Plunge is now open via the club's website.