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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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January 3, 2012: Record 3,000 “Do It” at Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

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New Years Eve 2015 Coney Island

Preview of New Year’s Eve light show and ‘ball drop’ on Parachute Jump. Photo via Alliance for Coney Island

Already world-famous for its New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge, Coney Island is having its first-ever New Year’s Eve celebration on Wednesday and first fireworks show of 2015. The free event will feature a digital “ball drop” on the illuminated Parachute Jump, live entertainment by the Coney Island Circus Sideshow and a fireworks extravaganza. The idea originated with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who vowed to bring a New Year’s Eve celebration to Coney Island when he was elected last year.

“Now that we have our very own seaside ball drop, why be squished like a sardine in Times Square when you can rejoice like royalty in the County of Kings!” said Adams, who plans to make it an annual tradition. The 1939 Parachute Jump, which is known as Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower, is bedecked with 8,000 LEDs and lit year-round, but this is the landmark’s debut as the centerpiece of a celebration.

coney Island Fireworks Jim McDonnell

Fireworks on Coney Island Beach. Photo © Jim McDonnell

Adams teamed up with Coney’s City Councilman Mark Treyger and the Alliance for Coney Island to sponsor the festivities. The fun starts at 9:00pm with a DJ spinning at the Jump, which is located on the boardwalk just west of 16th Street. Revelers will be treated to giveaways as well as complimentary hot chocolate. Sideshow performances and live music begin around 11:00pm 10:30pm with the ball drop at midnight followed by fireworks shot off from the beach.

A number of local bars and eateries will be open for New Year’s Eve and offering extended hours. Tom’s Coney Island, the Boardwalk outpost of the Prospect Park eatery, which has a full bar, will be serving till 12:30am. The original Nathan’s Famous on Surf Avenue will be open till midnight. Surf Avenue restaurants with bars keeping later hours–till 1 or 2am– are Peggy O’Neill’s (1904 Surf Ave.), Footprints (1521 Surf Ave.) and Applebee’s (1217 Surf Ave.). Dunkin Donuts in Stillwell Terminal is open 24 hours. Eldorado Bumper Cars (1216 Surf Ave.) will be open till 1:00am. All will be open again for Thursday’s Polar Bear Dip.

On New Year’s Day, the fun starts up again at 10am, when Ruby’s Bar, Coney Island’s oldest, will open early to welcome participants of the Polar Bear Dip. Swim time is 1pm sharp and you can avoid long lines by registering in advance online and making a minimum $20 donation to the fundraiser for Camp Sunshine, where children with life-threatening illnesses and their families can enjoy a summer vacation.

Coney Island USA’s Sideshow and Freak Bar will be open from 2-6pm on New Year’s Day. Coney Island’s official parking lot next to MCU Park will be open and FREE for both New Year’s Eve and the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Dip.

Fire-eater at Coney Island USA Gala

Fire-eater at Coney Island USA. Photo © Norman Blake

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November 28, 2013: Photo Album: Parachute Jump Lights Way to Year-Round Coney Island

January 3, 2012: Record 3,000 “Do It” at Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

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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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January 2, 2014: Photo Album: A Happy New Year’s Day in Coney Island

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One of the pleasures of going to Coney Island for the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge is greeting friends and luminaries on the Boardwalk, at Ruby’s Bar and at Coney Island USA’s Freak Bar. Among the people ATZ wished a “Happy New Year!” today were Jimmy Prince of Mermaid Avenue’s Major Market, which closed in 2009, and John Dorman of Philips Candy of Coney Island, now in Staten Island. These two old friends have a long tradition of meeting on the Boardwalk on New Year’s Day.

On a day when New York City was inaugurating its first new Mayor in a dozen years at 1pm (the same time as the Polar Bear Plunge), Coney Island USA’s Dick Zigun remained “The Permanently Unelected Mayor of Coney Island.” And tattooed ladies, the MetroCard Man and other zany characters were gladly posing for photos. Cheers to another fun season at Coney Island’s beach and boardwalk!

Dick Zigun

Dick Zigun at Coney Island USA on New Year’s Day. January 1, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

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

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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 New Year’s Day Plunge

Coney Island Polar Bear New Year’s Day Plunge, January 1, 2013. Photo © Bruce Handy via Coney Island Photo Diary

“After Superstorm Sandy, this was the first time Coney could shine,” says Coney Island resident and photographer Bruce Handy, whose empathetic shots of Coney Island people and places appear frequently on ATZ. He spent his New Year’s Day as usual taking photos on the beach and boardwalk. We’re delighted to start off a new year of photo albums with his photographs of the 2013 Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge.

“I tried to capture people in their natural element, especially emotions: happy, sad, afraid of the cold water, maybe thinking it was a good idea at home but now would rather be in a warmer place,” says Bruce. “About ninety percent of the people were very happy to start their year bathing in the medicinal waters of Coney Island. Sandy was a reminder that life is short and the Polar Bear Plunge is the answer, to follow your heart and soul, to not waste a minute, go for it.”

As ATZ previously reported, for the first time in the Polar Bear Club’s history, instead of everyone running into the water at once, groups went in approximately every seven minutes, a couple hundred at a time. “Each of the five runs was different, all the people were very enthusiastic,” says Bruce. Last year on New Year’s Day, temps in the 50s drew a record number of celebrants– more than 3,000– making the changes advisable from a safety standpoint. This year, tempa were in the 30s and the event drew approximately 2,000 swimmers, according to Dennis Thomas, president of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club.

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

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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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December 1 2012: Dec 2: Coney Island Polar Bear Club’s First Swim of Season

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

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