My family goes to Coney Island every year on New Year’s Day as a tradition. We cheer on my boyfriend as he does the polar bear plunge with thousands of other wacky NYers, starting their year with a fresh splash of water by jumping into the frigid Atlantic Ocean. This has always seemed like a horrible idea to me, but I’ve always enjoyed watching the myriad of unique characters Coney Island attracts – and on this day in particular it’s a real-life circus. Our daughter has been his biggest cheerleader. She cheers him on while waiting next to me on the beach. He always comes running out of the water every year and swings her up and I snap our first picture of the year. It’s our thing.
Well a couple months ago she told me she was going to do the polar bear plunge this year…she’s 5. I didn’t take her seriously until she started turning water on cold in the tub to ‘train’ for the big plunge. I kind of freaked out. I don’t know if it’s safe for a small little body to sustain cold temperatures like that…and for no good reason. I decided to support her goal and so did Santa who gave her a full scuba wet suit, booties and cap to help her best manage the temperature. I was still worried so decided I should go in with her.
Turns out New Year’s day 2017 was in the 40’s so it wasn’t nearly as cold as it often is. That’s not saying much because the water was still freezing. I wore a swimsuit, scuba booties and winter hat. My boyfriend wore a swim suit and booties. And my daughter was covered head to toe in a full body wet suit, cap and booties (she slightly resembled an otter). We ran into the water welcoming the new year splashing, screaming and laughing with thousands of strangers. The water made us feel vibrant and the adrenaline rush somehow carried me though the experience…and I think I want to do it again next year.
- There is a formal Polar Bear Plunge which you purchase tickets for and run thru a roped off area in a series of well managed rounds as to not overpopulate the ocean causing dangerous conditions with swarms of people. The suggested donation to participate in this area is $40/person and proceeds go to a charity. We always just run in on our own, near the ropes. It’s free and we run in when we get there, always somewhere around 1:00.
- The official plunge time is 1:00.
- Best entrance is on boardwalk near Stillwell Avenue.
- There is free parking at MCU park, parking lot for Brooklyn Cyclones, but it fills up fast.
- We use our annual family zoo pass and take advantage of free parking at the NY aquarium which is a little further down the boardwalk. Parking is challenging so allow yourself some time.
- Make sure you pay attention to where you put your clothes and towels, if you can’t find them after running out of the freezing water you’re screwed. We always have spectator friends with us who stay by them so have never had a theft issue.
- Definitely wear some sort of water shoe, surf boots or scuba booties, your feet go painfully numb and make walking difficult. The booties really make a significant difference.
- How you plunge is your own personal style! You can dunk under, go in up to your shoulders, dip in just your feet…you can participate how you want. My daughter and I got wet up to our shoulders. My boyfriend stayed in for about 10 minutes…probably not recommended.
- Everyone changes into dry clothes on the beach by holding towels around them. You’ll want to get the wet clothes of asap, and modesty takes second to getting warm!
- Bring a thermos of something warm to sip while you take in the vibe of Coney Island’s annual Polar Bear Plunge. Even going as a spectator is satisfying.
- Keep your kids safe and warm, even if they look like an otter.
Check out our video of the plunge and the unique cast of characters this event attracts: