The city may be having an unseasonably warm December, but it’s fair to say most New Yorkers still find it a bit too chilly for the beach. Members of the famed Coney Island Polar Bear Club, on the other hand, relish the drop in temperature as they head out for an ocean swim.
The Polar Bear Club is a New York institution dating back to 1903. While the organization is renowned for its annual New Year’s Day swim where New Yorkers gather to welcome the year with a chilly dip, it’s far from the only time the club embraces the cold water. In fact, they meet 12 times throughout the winter months and draw a sizable membership that’s a mix of ages, backgrounds, and cultures from the metropolitan area and beyond.
At the club’s helm is president Dennis Thomas, who fell in love with Coney Island years ago and later discovered the serenity of swimming on brisk days. More than thirty years after he first became a member, Dennis spoke with 6sqft about the Polar Bear Club’s history, what a typical swim is like, and what happens when hundreds of New Yorkers turn out for a New Year’s Day swim that supports Camp Sunshine.