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Photo © Barry Yanowitz

Coney Island New Years Day Polar Bear Dip, January 1, 2015. Photo © Barry Yanowitz

On January 1st in Coney Island, people came from near and far to welcome the New Year by joining the Polar Bears’ annual dip in the icy Atlantic. “I believe we had approximately 2,500 swimmers participate, very similar to last year,” Dennis Thomas, president of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club told ATZ.

The winter bathing, which celebrates its 112th anniversary this year, raised a record amount–more than $70,000– for Camp Sunshine, where children with life-threatening illnesses can enjoy a summer vacation. Thomas said he expects the amount to rise a bit more in the coming days. You can make a contribution here through June 30.

Photo © Barry Yanowitz

Coney Island New Years Day Polar Bear Dip, January 1, 2015. Photo © Barry Yanowitz

For Barry Yanowitz, who grew up in Coney Island, taking photos of the Polar Bear Dip is an annual ritual. “It does take a certain amount of crazy to go swimming in NYC in January. But it’s a crazy that I admire!” said the photographer, who waded into the surf with water-proof boots and got a bit soaked taking the above photos. Afterwards, on the beach and the boardwalk, revelers in zany headgear, costumes and accessories reminiscent of the Mermaid Parade happily posed for portraits. You can view Barry’s complete set here.

Brian Dillon sports his perennially popular Coney Island-themed hat

Brian Dillon sports his Coney Island-themed hat. Photo © Barry Yanowitz

For a Coney Island Polar Bear’s eye view of the New Year’s Day Dip, check out this video by club member Jim McDonnell. The Bears, who swim from November through April, went for an early morning swim on New Year’s Day prior to the public festivities.

If you missed the New Year’s Day Dip or want to give it another go, you can join the Polar Bears as a guest for one of their Sunday swims. Here’s how.

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Coney Island Polar Bear Club

Coney Island Polar Bear Club. November 2, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

On Sunday, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club went for their first swim of the season. “Summertime has gone away, Polar Bears are here to stay,” the Bears chanted as they warmed up by doing jumping jacks on the beach.

The Club swims at 1:00pm every Sunday from November through April. Membership is currently closed but you can join them for a guest swim. Just turn up at the Bears Clubhouse at the Aquarium’s Education Hall on the Boardwalk at West 8th Street by 12:30pm with your bathing suit, a towel, surf boots or an extra pair of sneakers, and some warm clothing. Or welcome the New Year by joining the annual January 1st Polar Bear Dip in Coney Island, a fundraiser for Camp Sunshine.

Polar Bear Club member and filmmaker Jim McDonnell shot this short video of Sunday’s swim to mark the 111th season of the winter swimming club. It was a windy day on the beach and boardwalk with air temps in the 40s.

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Polar Bear Plunge

Viking Beauty and Photographer. Coney Island Polar Bear Club New Year’s Day Plunge 2014. Photo © Barry Yanowitz

Based on the videos and photos of Coney Island’s New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge, most people stripped down to swimsuits or athletic wear. But a contingent of creative folk once again came prepared with wacky headgear, costumes and accoutrements in the spirit of the Mermaid Parade. Brooklyn photographer Barry Yanowitz captured the best of the best. In the above photo, he even managed to get a bikini-clad Viking beauty and a photographer wearing a full wetsuit in the same frame. “I bought waterproof boots last year, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go,” says Barry, who grew up in Coney Island and lived here until graduating from college in 1995.

Polar Bear Plunge

Formal Tea at Coney Island Polar Bear Club New Year’s Day Plunge 2014. Photo © Barry Yanowitz

ATZ’s award for best dressed males and best set design at the Polar Bear Plunge goes to the two gentlemen in formal wear who carried a tabletop set for tea into the surf. In a tableau reminiscent of Improv Everywhere’s “Black Tie Beach,” they poured tea for fellow swimmers.

Polar Bear Plunge

Formal Tea at Coney Island Polar Bear Club New Year’s Day Plunge 2014. Photo © Barry Yanowitz

Among the Santas, superheroes, angels, devils and spirit animals, this loving couple–Wonder Woman and Hulk Hogan– stood out. You can see more of Barry Yanowitz’s photos from his New Year’s Day set on his website.

Polar Bear Plunge

Wonder Woman and Hulk Hogan at Coney Island Polar Bear Club New Year’s Day Plunge 2014. Photo © Barry Yanowitz

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Coney Island Polar Club

Members of the Coney Island Polar Club enjoy a Sunday Swim, December 22, 2013. Photo © Bruce Handy via Coney Island Photo Diary

The Coney Island Polar Bears, the oldest winter bathing club in the country, go for a dip in the Atlantic every Sunday starting in November. On January 1st, everyone’s invited to join the party. The Polar Bear Plunge is a fun way to spend New Year’s Day, whether you brave the water or snap photos from the shore. Some of the costumed plungers in Bruce Handy’s photos of past New Year’s Days are reminiscent of the Mermaid Parade. There’s the Metrocard Man, Big Babies in Diapers, Hawaiian dancers, and many superheroes, as well as penguins, ducks, and of course polar bears!

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

Costumed Characters: Asbury Toll Plaza Meets MetroCard Man at 2013 Polar Bear Plunge, January 1, 2013. Photo © Bruce Handy via Coney Island Photo Diary

The zany event is also a fundraiser for Camp Sunshine, where children with life-threatening illnesses and their families can enjoy a summer holiday. You can register and pledge a donation to this year’s plunge or help participants meet their fundraising goals here. Swim time is 1pm, but it’s best to arrive early. About 2,000 people joined last year’s Plunge, earning an “I Did It” certificate from the Club and bragging rights forever while raising more than $22,000 for Camp Sunshine.

Among the stores that will be open for New Year’s Day are Nathan’s, Ruby’s Bar, The Freak Bar, Tom’s Coney Island and Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, along with Williams Candy, Lola Star’s Boardwalk Boutique, Coney Island and Brooklyn Beach Shops, and Brooklyn Rock. For the first time ever, the Coney Island Circus Sideshow will perform on New Year’s Day, with continuous shows from 2-6pm 12-7pm.

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

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

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Coney Island Polar Bear Club

Coney Island Polar Bear Club, November 6, 2011. Photo © Bruce Handy via Coney Island Photo Diary

Best known for their New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club actually goes for a dip in the Atlantic every Sunday at 1pm from November through April. Today, November 3rd, is the first swim of the 2013-2014 season for the country’s oldest winter bathing club, founded in 1903 by Bernarr Macfadden.

In this video by Polar Bear Capri Djatiasmoro, taken on April 28, 2013, the final cold water swim of last season, the Bears “circle up” at the ten minute mark. The water temp was 50F / 10C. Want to join them? For the 2013-2014 season, the Coney Island Polar Bears are accepting 10 applicants for membership chosen by lottery.

To register for the lottery, you must sign up here and will be notified of the results by November 9th. Selected applicants are required to pay a $25 application fee (non-refundable), participate in 12 swims within a single season between November and April and be voted in by a majority of the membership. The club has approximately 150 full-time members with about 100 coming out for weekly swims. Here’s another vid, also by Polar Bear Capri Djatiasmoro, of the group walking to the water on a cold day in January. Can you say camaraderie?

You can also join the Coney Polar Bear Club for one guest swim. Just show up at the Bears “Clubhouse” at the Aquarium’s Education Hall on the Coney Island Boardwalk at West 8th Street by 12:30 pm with your bathing suit, a towel, surf boots or an extra pair of sneakers, and some warm clothing.

Membership is not required for the January 1st Polar Bear Plunge, a fundraiser for Camp Sunshine and local charities. Besides being a great way to start off the new year, the event raises more than $20,000 annually for Camp Sunshine, a retreat for children with life threatening diseases.

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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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The Coney Island Polar Bear Club is going for their first swim of the season on Sunday, December 2nd, a month later than usual due to Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. “We extend our condolences to everyone who was affected by the hurricane,” Dennis Thomas, president of the winter swimming club told ATZ. “We are happy to help out the Parks Department and the Aquarium with cleanup and look forward to a shortened but a good strong season.” Last year’s first swim, shown in the above vid by a club member, was on November 6th and the water temp was 51F.

The Bears swim at 1pm every Sunday from November through April. There are currently 150 full-time members of the club with about 100 coming out for weekly swims, says Thomas. Membership is closed for the 2012-2013 season, but you can join them for a guest swim. Just show up at the Bears “Clubhouse” at the Aquarium’s Education Hall on the Boardwalk at West 8th Street by 12:30 pm with your bathing suit, a towel, surf boots or an extra pair of sneakers, and some warm clothing.

Just 31 days away, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club’s annual January 1st Swim is one of the more unusual ways to welcome the New Year. It’s become increasingly popular and a winter counterpart to the Mermaid Parade. On New Year’s Day 2012 in Coney Island, a record 3,000 “Did “It” at the Polar Bear Plunge, nearly three times as many as the previous year, Thomas told ATZ. The event is free and open to the public, but Freezin’ for a Reason is also a major fundraiser for Camp Sunshine, a retreat for children with life threatening illnesses and their families.

Coney Island Polar Bear

Aquarium Director Jon Dohlin Greets Coney Island Polar Bear at Post Hurricane Sandy Cleanup on the Boardwalk. November 17, 2012. Photo © Princess Polar Bear Capri

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