CONEY ISLAND — To start the new year off with a jolt, crowds of thrill-seeking New Yorkers jumped into the Atlantic Ocean Thursday afternoon to take part in the annual Polar Bear Club swim on Coney Island.
About 2,500 people took the plunge this year, organizers said, with six waves of swimmers taking turns running down the beach at Stillwell Avenue toward the ocean and into the surf — sometimes more than once.
“It’s exhilarating. We went back in and did it again,” said Arthur of Bay Ridge who has been participating in the Polar Bear swim for at least five years. “It really helps my physique. And it’s a great way to start the new year.”
The cold water dip was a first for Ivan Rodriguez of the Lower East Side, who said he liked it just fine.
“It feels great. It was fun. I mean, it’s definitely nerve-wracking before you go in, but as soon as you go in, the adrenaline takes over and you don’t really feel it until about now,” he said, standing on the beach in nothing but a swim cap and trunks.
His sister Joannitte didn’t agree.
“It hurts a lot,” she said with a laugh, toweling off in a pink bikini.
Water temperatures off the coast of New York this time of year hover around 38 degrees, according to national weather data.
For many, the event is a once-a-year thing, but members of the Polar Bear Club swim in the ocean every week in Coney Island, no matter the season, said its president Dennis Thomas — who has been participating for three decades.
“Back then, if we had 100 people show up we would think ‘this is huge!’ And it’s been getting bigger and bigger every year,” he said.
Through voluntary donations from participants of the New Year’s Day tradition, the club raises money for Camp Sunshine, a camp in Maine for children with life-threatening illnesses, Thomas said. Since partnering with the camp, the Polar Bear Club has raised more than $350,000, he said.
More swimmers took a dip in the Rockaways in Queens.
For more information about the event or the Polar Bear Club, visit the group’s website.