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Posts Tagged ‘Polar Bear Club’

Snowy View from Jones Walk

Snowy view from Jones Walk of Luna Park pinwheels and Deno’s Wonder Wheel. January 23, 2016. Photo © Bruce Handy

For the first snow of past winters, ATZ has posted Bruce Handy’s exquisite photos of snow mermaids and the pattern of snow on the slats of the wooden boardwalk. Saturday’s snow was a blizzard of 26.8 inches, making it the city’s second largest snowstorm since 1869. It’s no wonder this year’s photos are less contemplative and more action-oriented.

Coney Island Polar Bear in the snow

Coney Island Polar Bear saoking up some snow on the beach. January 23, 2016. Photo © Bruce Handy

After weeks of balmy weather, several members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club gathered for a frolic on the snowy beach and a blizzard dip amid crashing waves and gusty winds.
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Coney Island Polar Bears Blizzard Swim

Coney Island Polar Bears Blizzard Swim. January 23, 2016. Photo © Bruce Handy

Want to go for a day after the blizzard swim with the Polar Bears on Sunday? You’re welcome to join as a guest. 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.

Coney Island Beach Blizzard 2016

Photographer atop berm built by the Parks Department. January 23, 2016. Photo © Bruce Handy

Prior to the blizzard, the Parks Department built temporary berms on the beach to protect against possible coastal flooding. On Saturday afternoon, when Mayor De Blasio visited Coney Island with other elected officials, he climbed the berm to check out the waves. All was well, but he was surprised to see a jogger on the beach. A few hours earlier the Mayor might have seen a woman pushing a baby stroller along the shore. With no snow tires, it was easier for her to push the carriage in the sand than in the snow. “It was the clearest path,” says the photographer, who resides in Coney Island. “It was a Fellini moment to end the day.”

Blizzard 2016

Pushing a Baby Carriage on Coney Island Beach during Blizzard 2016. January 23, 2016. Photo © Bruce Handy

Oh, and you couldn’t even get a hot dog in Coney Island on Saturday. The century-old Nathan’s Famous on Surf Avenue, which is open daily year-round, was closed due to the snow. The 24-hour Dunkin Donuts in Stillwell Terminal was among the very few businesses that remained open during the storm

storm-shuttered Nathan's

View of Surf Avenue and a storm-shuttered Nathan’s from Stillwell Terminal. January 23, 2016. Photo © Bruce Handy

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December 27, 2010: Photo of the Day: First Snow on Coney Island Boardwalk

February 26, 2010: Photo of the Day: Snow Mermaid on Coney Island Beach

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Coney Island Polar Bear Club

Greetings from Coney Island! Coney Island Polar Bear Club poses for group photo before their first swim of the season on November 1, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

On Sunday, the 112-year-old Coney Island Polar Bear Club went for their first swim of the 2015-2016 season on the same day the amusement rides went for their last spin of the year. Today, Mayor de Blasio gave the Polar Bears a shout-out in a release for NYC & Company’s new winter tourism campaign. Called Unlock NYC and taglined “Find a Winter Less Ordinary,” the campaign was launched on Monday at World Travel Market in London.

“There are endless reasons to love New York City in every season, but something special happens when the snow falls – from Lunar New Year celebrations in Flushing and the tree lighting in Rockefeller Center, to watching the Polar Bear Club brave the frigid waters on Coney Island,” says Mayor Bill de Blasio in the release. “People from around the world feel the pull of New York City, and with Unlock NYC visitors can find the hidden gems – the New Yorker’s New York – and experience our city on a budget.”

New Year's Day Polar Bear Dip at Coney Island

He Did It! Annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Dip at Coney Island Attracts Thousands. January 1, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita


On January 1st in Coney Island, people travel 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 a few days after this year’s swim. The event attracted just as many spectators and raised more than $70,000 for Camp Sunshine, where children with life-threatening illnesses can enjoy a summer vacation.

The Coney Island Polar Bears, who have about 125 members, swim on Sundays at 1pm from November through April. If you want to join them for the 2016 New Year’s Day Dip or as a guest at a Sunday swim, here’s how.

Coney Island Polar Bear Club

Coney Island Polar Club’s first swim of the 2015-2016 season. November 1, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

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

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Friday’s forecast of snow showers with accumulations of less than an inch makes us feel nostalgic for the snowstorms of past years. Jonathan Pineau Bonetti shot “Coney Island Song of the Silent Snow” in Coney Island and Brighton Beach on Christmas Weekend 2010. That was the year the Polar Bears, who appear in the film, got a snow swim as a Christmas present! Time to bring in the snow machines?

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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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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 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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New Year's Day Swim

Unwinding after a Busy Holiday...Coney Island Polar Bear Club New Year's Day Swim 2011. Photo © Barry Yanowitz

On New Year’s Day 2011, when Santa should have been back at the North Pole after a busy Christmas, photographer Barry Yanowitz spotted him at the Coney Island Polar Bear Swim! The annual event is zany fun as well as a fundraiser for a very good cause. You can play Santa on New Year’s Day 2012 by pledging a donation to this year’s plunge or helping participants meet their fundraising goals. The funds make it possible for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families to enjoy a holiday at Camp Sunshine in Maine.

“Last year we raised over $50,000 for Camp Sunshine, and hope to exceed that this year,” Coney Island Polar Bear Club President Dennis Thomas told ATZ. “Approximately 1,200 swimmers registered last year. People can make donations on site on New Year’s Day or pledge at Freezin’ for a Reason.” (If you’re reading this after New Year’s Day, it’s not too late to mail a check.)

There’s no fee for observers or participants at the increasingly popular annual event, but the Coney Island Polar Bear Club encourages participants to make a donation to Camp Sunshine. They will receive a free breakfast, all-day admission to the New York Aquarium and the official “I Did It!” certificate. Swim time is at 1 pm sharp. Registration begins at 11 am on the Boardwalk at Stillwell Avenue. Before and After Party at Ruby’s Bar from 11am till 2:30pm!

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It’s Polar Bear Season in Coney Island! After the rides close in October, the beach is home to the exuberant members of the country’s oldest cold-water bathing club. At 1 pm every Sunday from November through April, the Bears and Cubs plunge into the chilly Atlantic. It’s fun to spectate and take photos from the shore.

Photographer Jim McDonnell, who has taken the New Year’s Day Plunge, made this short video of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club’s season opener on November 6th.

The Club’s increasingly popular New Year’s Day fundraiser for Camp Sunshine draws about 1000 who take the plunge and is open to the public. Aspiring members must participate in 12 swims during the season and be approved by the membership. “We have about 140 full-time members in the club,” Polar Bear President Dennis Thomas told ATZ in a previously posted interview. “At our weekly swims we have been averaging 80-90 swimmers.”

Visit the Coney Island Polar Bear Club website for info on joining a swim as a guest or becoming a member.

To attend, show up any Sunday between November and April at the New York Aquarium Education Hall, on the Boardwalk at West 8th Street by 12:30 pm. Bring your bathing suit (duh), a towel and surf boots or an extra pair of sneakers (you really need something to protect and insulate your feet.) and some warm clothes. We also recommend you bring a friend should you need assistance or want your picture taken on the beach. You will be assigned a “buddy” to swim with and must obey all safety precautions prescribed by the Club.

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May 19, 2011: Rest in Peace: Rabbi Abraham Abraham’s Synagogue Was the Beach

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January 8, 2010: By the Numbers: Coney Island New Year’s Day Polar Bear Swim 2010

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The Rabbi

Rabbi Abraham Abraham & Bob Stewart of the Coney Island Ice Breakers, 2009 Mermaid Parade. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Rabbi Abraham Abraham, the leader of the Ice Breakers Winter Ocean Swimmers of Brighton Beach, died on May 18, according to club spokesman Bob Stewart. “The Rabbi,” as he was called by his fellow swimmers, was a longtime member of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club until the 1990s when he broke away after a dispute and formed a club called the Ice Bears and then the Ice Breakers. The funeral will be held on May 19 at 2 pm at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, Queens.

The elaborately mustachioed and white-bearded Rabbi was a colorful Coney Island character famous for his daily swims and annual New Year’s Day Swim at Brighton 6th Street. The Ice Breakers boast of having the largest number of active swimmers over 70 years of age (10 swimmers) and four members over 80 years of age. Stewart estimates that the Rabbi was 83 or 84, though he would never admit exactly how much over 80.

Rabbi Abraham Abraham’s zaniest personal accomplishment was probably living in an ice house for 110 hours (Guinness record ID 12729 claimant 12524) on the beach. We’ll never forget his royal antics as King of the Mermaid Parade in 1999. He was so full of fun that he kept jumping out of his rolling chair to dance a jig, which is something we haven’t seen a king do before or since. Photographers loved him, of course. With his white hair and flowing beard, the Rabbi was probably the king who most resembled Neptune. In this 2009 video he extols the health benefits of eating organic kosher food and winter swimming in the frigid waters of the Atlantic.

In the above photo taken by ATZ at the 2009 Mermaid Parade, the Rabbi rode in a pedicab due to a leg injury from what he said at the time was a parachute skydiving accident. “But it was bone cancer,” Stewart reveals. “They removed his thighbone and replaced it with a titanium rod.” The next year, he was once again walking the length of the parade route.

“He’s such a positive guy,” says Stewart. “He called me two weeks ago and said, ‘Bob, I’m dying. I need to see you.’ So I went over to his house. And then he said ‘listen, do you think we can do one more gig before I die?’ Here’s a guy on his deathbed and he wants to do one more something–swim, Mermaid Parade…” They agreed to ride the pedicab again in the Mermaid Parade, which takes place this year on June 18th. “But we knew it was getting close, it was day by day,” Stewart adds. The Ice Breakers are planning to march in the Parade with a photo of their departed leader.

But was he a real Rabbi? “He was able to show me his credentials–his clergy documents,” says Stewart, a Brighton Beach native who took up winter swimming as a teen without being part of an organized group. After getting to know the Rabbi as one of “the beach people,” Stewart joined the Ice Breakers. The Rabbi will be missed. “He was a very happy-go-lucky guy who didn’t preach in any synagogue. His place to preach was the beach.”

Rabbi Abraham Abraham

Rabbi Abraham Abraham Rings the Dreamland Bell at the Coney Island History Project. September 13, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita

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