January 1, 2015 will mark my fifth polar bear swim on Coney Island. Jumping into the Atlantic ocean is a very refreshing way to start the new year. Literally and figuratively. Good riddance to 2014, I’m ready to make anew and bring in the good. Yes, it will be cold. Yes, I will freeze. But that’s only temporary. I have been through far worse in the past year. Also, why not start the year out with something completely zany?
What To Expect at a Polar Bear Swim?
I do recommend spectating at the Coney Island polar bear swim, even if you don’t take the plunge. It is quite a crowd. Lots of characters. There a couple thousand swimmers every year but it never feels too crowded since you’re on a huge beach and in the giant ocean. The crowd is very entertaining. People dress-up in costumes or formal attire or anything. It’s not quite as obnoxious as some other events. It also feels more like a local event than one for tourists. It’s very Brooklyn. (sorry not sorry for saying that).
You will be cold! Before, during, and after, you will experience frosty temperatures. The water temperature is usually between 40-45 degrees, which actually may be warmer than the air temperature. Although the water is painfully cold, getting out and facing the chilly air temperature is almost worse.
Although your whole body will be cold down to the bones, it’s your toes that take the toll. Even in socks and shoes, they will be freezing cold and probably hurt. Be prepared for that. The rest of your body will warm up rather quickly though, I promise. The toes are the worst part.
Where is the Polar Bar Swim?
The annual New Year’s Day Coney Island Polar Bear Swim is on the beach at Stillwell Avenue. You can take the D/Q/F trains to their last stop then pretty much just follow the crowd. The beach area is directly in front of the subway stop, just walk straight ahead. You’ll see a bunch of people around a bathhouse on the boardwalk. Just walk through there, out onto the beach, and there you go.
What Should I Bring?
Towels, warm clothes to layer, multiple pairs of socks, hat, gloves, two pairs of shoes. I suggest wearing a pair of shoes in the ocean. Also wear the least amount of clothes possible when actually in the water. When the cold air hits you getting out, any wet clothing sticking to you will feel like an ice cube. I know it sounds worse but wearing a bikini or going shirtless really is the better option here.
There are bathrooms in the near-by bathhouse that you can change in afterward. Have all your dry clothing layers in a bag together so you can just grab it and run to change. There is usually a line so you may have to shiver a little bit while waiting.
Bring a friend who is not jumping in the ocean. This shouldn’t be too difficult to find. When you get out of the water, your fingers will be very cold and it may be difficult to grip things (like socks). Have a friend waiting for you on the beach to help give you warm things to layer on. Thank you friend!
Even after you change into warm clothes, you will still feel cold. This feeling won’t last too long but it is a bone cold feeling. Plan your day to get a warm meal or a hot bath afterward.
Also, booze is not allowed on the beach but many people bring it for it’s warming-up abilities.
Even if you don’t want to brave the cold water, simply being at Coney Island during the swim is an experience in itself. This truly is an event and is a wonderful way to start your new year.