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Posts Tagged ‘Camp Sunshine’

ATZ is pleased to present this Coney Island Polar Bear’s eye view of the 2013 New Year’s Day Plunge with videos by Polar Bear Club members Jim McDonnell and Princess Mermaid Capri. The Polar Bear Club, which has 150 members who swim every Sunday in the winter, celebrated their 110th year with the 2013 New Year’s Day Plunge. About 2,000 people participated in today’s event, which is free and open to the public. They earned an “I Did It” certificate from the Club and “bragging rights forever,” as one participant says in Jim’s video. The water temperature was 41F/5C, air temp 37F and wind chill 27F, according to Capri.

For the first time in the Polar Bear Club’s history, instead of everyone running into the water at once, waves of people went in approximately every seven minutes, a couple hundred at a time. Also for the first time, registration was mandatory for the New Year’s Day Plunge since participants were issued color-coded wristbands. Those with blue wristbands were in the first wave of swimmers at 1pm, followed by red, green, orange and purple. Here’s the first wave…

“It went very well,” Polar Bear President Dennis Thomas told ATZ. “The Parks Department wanted a little more control and less chaos. And we did a better job of getting everyone registered.” Last year on New Year’s Day, temps in the 50s drew a record number of participants– more than 3,000– making the changes advisable from a safety standpoint.

Besides being a great way to start off the new year, the annual event is a fundraiser for Camp Sunshine, a retreat for children with life threatening diseases. According to Thomas, almost $22,000 was raised for Camp Sunshine and they expect to meet their goal of $25,000. This year, funds are also being raised for Coney Recovers, a coalition of local nonprofits helping with relief efforts after SuperStorm Sandy. If you missed the event, it’s not too late to donate online or mail in a check.

This video by Princess Mermaid Capri shows the fourth wave of swimmers…

Some of the wacky costumed characters are familiar from previous years’ swims or reminiscent of the Mermaid Parade. In photos and videos, we spotted the bagpiper, the Metrocard Man, Santa Claus, Hawaiians, various superheroes and the guys with the inflatable octopus toy as well as penguins and polar bears! Some carried hand-made signs that read “Free Polar Hugs” and “Polar Bears from the Bronx.” Two Japanese guys in bikinis from Tokyo Circus shared a timeless message: “Your Smile Is Beautiful.” Happy New Year from Coney Island!

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Polar Bear Plunge

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge. January 1, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

On New Year’s Day 2012 in Coney Island, a record number of people, nearly three times as many as last year, did the Polar Bear Plunge. Dennis Thomas, president of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club told ATZ that the number of “I Did It” certificates given out to registered swimmers soared. “We went through almost 3,000,” said Thomas, who noted that the unofficial number of plungers is always higher because “some register, others don’t.” On New Year’s Day 2011, the official tally of registered swimmers was about 1,200 and the Bears gave out 1,000 certificates before they ran out.

Sunny skies and temps in the 50s also drew the largest crowd of spectators in the club’s history. “I think the weather made it better and more enjoyable,” Thomas said of the event, which is an annual fundraiser for Camp Sunshine, a retreat for children with life threatening diseases. According to the chart at Freezin for a Reason, more than $37,000 has been received in donations. Thomas said pledges are still coming in and the Coney Island Polar Bears expect to meet their goal of raising $50,000. (If you missed the event, it’s not too late to mail a check.)

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge. January 1, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy/Coney Island Photo Diary via flickr

“We had a DJ on Stillwell to provide entertainment and there were hundreds of people dancing,” Thomas said. Some of the costumed plungers were familiar from previous years’ swims or reminiscent of the Mermaid Parade. There was the Metrocard Man, Big Babies in Diapers, a group of jailbirds, a pirate couple in their pirate ship, and a gaggle of superheroes, as well as penguins, ducks, and of course polar bears! Some carried hand-made signs that read Occupy Peace, Occupy the Ocean, Free Polar Hugs and Polar Bears from Bronx.

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge. January 1, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

The only stores open on the Boardwalk were Ruby’s, which was jam-packed with New Year’s Day revelers celebrating the beloved bar’s new eight-year lease, and the Lola Star Boutique next door. Shop owner and designer Dianna Carlin said it was the “Best New Year’s Day party ever!” It was the first time her shop was open on New Year’s and when she arrived bright and early at 10:30am, much to her surprise the Boardwalk was already packed. Lola Star Boutique offered the first Coney Collectible of 2012– a limited edition magnet–for free to Polar Bear Plungers as well as to customers who spent $20 at the shop. Nearly all 150 of the magnets were given out. “You can’t buy it. You can only earn it. I’m going to make it an annual souvenir, only available on New Year’s Day.”

On the Boardwalk in front of Ruby's Bar and Lola Star Boutique, January 1, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

Coney Island resident and photographer Bruce Handy, whose photos are featured in this post, echoes others when he said, “I have never seen a huge, gigantic crowd as on Sunday.” He estimated there were about 5,000 people on the beach and boardwalk, 2,000 polar bears plunging. “The plunge frontage was from Stillwell Avenue almost to Steeplechase Pier, way longer than usual. The warm weather brought many people out, who in past years had thought about plunging into the frigid sea.”

Polar Bear Plunge

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge. January 1, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

What are the reasons for the event’s growing popularity? Thomas told us in “By the Numbers: Coney Island New Year’s Day Polar Bear Swim 2010″ (ATZ, Jan. 8, 2010)…

Part of it is just word of mouth. People went last year, told their friends who said, yeah I want to do that next year. Part of it is that Coney Island has been in the press so much lately that it is going through its own revival regardless of the development plans. Crowds out there are getting bigger for all events the past 2 years.

Part of it is our club seems to have a larger media presence than in the past and things like our website make us much easier to find than say, 10 years ago. And somehow we are less portrayed as those idiots on the beach that cause network newscasters to chuckle and shake their heads after a 10 second clip before the weather report. The New Year’s Swim is basically free and open to the public, that might be a draw in the current economy as well. I think it’s all these things that explains the larger crowds.

After this year’s record attendance, Thomas says “It’s getting so big, we’re pushed to the limits.” He and his team begin working on the event in November, when their winter swimming season starts. “We really need to enlist more help. The logistics are getting to be enormous and it imposes a lot more costs on us.” In past years, sponsorships from Planet Green and Vaseline Skin Care helped out.

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge. January 1, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy/Coney Island Photo Diary via flickr

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December 25, 2013: Just Do It! January 1st Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

January 1, 2013: Videos of the Day: Coney Island Polar Bear New Year’s Day Plunge 2013

December 18, 2011: Playing Santa at the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

Jan 2, 2010: Photo Album: Coney Island Boardwalk, New Year’s Day 2010

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