I love the beach and I love the ocean, but I despise the cold and would rather take my sweet, sweet time to get into the water – even on the hottest of summer days – than dive right in like some crazy person.
So the thought of charging headfirst into freezing, bone-chilling, unfriendly waters on the first day of the new year sounds like my own personal version of hell and something I’d want to avoid at all costs. However, watching is another story and that’s exactly what I did at the annual Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge last Friday!
A tradition starting back in 1903 by Bernarr Macfadden, a leader in the world of physical fitness, he believed that taking a dip in icy water could “be a boon to one’s stamina, virility and immunity.”
It was so bizarre seeing people, including myself, wrapped up in winter gear, while there were others hopping from foot to foot and huddling in circles trying to stay warm in nothing more than a little Speedos and bikinis. I can’t even begin to imagine the thoughts running through each participant’s head right before jumping in, but I spoke to one guy who really looked like he would’ve rather been anywhere else than there and I didn’t blame him.
Now you may be wondering why anyone would subject themselves to something so torturous, right? Well, aside from thrills and bragging rights, it’s also all for a good cause. For years, the Polar Bear Club has been partnering with Camp Sunshine, a camp providing hope, happiness, and support for children with life-threatening diseases, to help raise money to send families there, so I’d say that’s worth braving these frigid temperatures, for sure!
People usually only stayed in the water for about a minute or two before quickly beelining it back to their towels and warm clothes, with it apparently being much worse after they got out because of the wind chill factor. It was difficult to even find someone willing to share their experience (although I did run into some of my neighbors who’d just done it), but I did overhear one woman say, “It’s so quick that your body gets out before it realizes what you’ve just subjected it to.” Like I said, hell.
It was also nice to see Coney Island sans whizzing lights and screaming revelers, thundering fireworks and blaring radios, and dare I say that it was actually kinda really beautiful? COLD, but beautiful.
Before retreating to the warmth of my bed, I also made sure to take a spin on the Wonder Wheel (the only ride I deem “safe” enough to ride at Coney Island) being that it was open for the first time on New Year’s Day, with half the proceeds also going to Camp Sunshine (see? I helped!) While in line, I even ran into someone I hadn’t seen in a really long time and what better way to catch up than whilst 150 feet in the air?
One of my resolutions this year to continue doing things even if no one else wants or can accompany me (like for this Polar Bear Plunge), and to also actually be okay with doing things on my own, because you never know who you might meet or what you’ll see. I had a great time that day and also met some pretty cool folks, so I’m so glad that I finally made it out to Coney Island to check it out. And who knows, maybe next year I’ll even take the plunge…