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Uniquely New York City (NYC)


New York City (NYC)
"Polar Bear" Swim

Polar Bear Swim
Photo Credit: The New York Times

On New Year’s Day, members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club and other cold water swimming enthusiasts strip down to their trunks and take a plunge into the frigid waters of the Atlantic.

The swim begins with the President of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club blowing a conch shell and asking for King Neptune’s permission to enter his domain. Once the swimmers hit the water, almost everyone screams at the shock of cold waves hitting their skin. Club members swim every Sunday from November through April, rain or snow. The biggest event of the season is the New Year’s Day splash, which gathers crowds of cheering onlookers.

The Coney Island Polar Bear Club, founded by Bernarr Macfadden in 1903, is considered the oldest of its kind in the country. Macfadden believed that taking a dip in the ocean during winter was beneficial to one’s health and immunity. He published over 100 books on the subject of fitness and became a millionaire publisher in the process. Many of his influential friends were people like FDR, Will Rogers, Shirley Temple and Rudolph Valentino. Among early Polar Bear Members were the then NYPD Deputy Police Commissioner George Dougherty and Supreme Court Justice Crater.

Today, the Polar Bear Club is housed at the New York Aquarium. As part of its community outreach efforts, the Polar Bears have partnered with Camp Sunshine. This organization provides support, hope and relief to children with life threatening illnesses and their immediate families through medical and psychological support. In 2009, the Polar Bears raised over $25,000 to support Camp Sunshine.

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