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Bear necessities: What you need to know about the Polar Bear Plunge

Leader of the pack: Dennis Thomas, president of Coney Island’s Polar Bear Club, said that first-time plungers should “feel free to scream” when they hit the chilly water.
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Time to grin and bear it!

Thousands of people are expected to descend on Coney Island on New Year’s Day for the Polar Bear Plunge, to wade into the ocean and prove their daring, and wash away their hangovers with a blast of icy water. But a much smaller group of people do the same thing every Sunday morning between November and April, and they gave us some advice for first-time plungers.

First: sign up in advance. Roughly 2,500 people jump into the water during the Coney Island New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge each year, according to Alexandra Silversmith, of the Alliance for Coney Island. If they all decide to sign up on the day of the event, it is going to take forever, so visit www.polarbearclub.org and complete your registration in advance. A $25 donation is encouraged.

On the day of the event: Show up by noon, or earlier if you have skipped that first bit of advice and still need to register. Registration starts at 10 am, on the Boardwalk at Stillwell Avenue, and the plunge will happen on the beach immediately below that.

Third, dress for the occasion. Make sure your outfit includes sandals, surf boots, or old sneakers, said the president of the Polar Bear Club.

“Having something on your feet can really make a difference,” said Dennis Thomas.

The crowds will be divided into groups of 500 people, and gangs will start charging for the water at 1 pm, with more groups following every five to 10 minutes. But once you and your comrades are up, don’t be in too much of a hurry to get in the water, said one 14-year veteran of the Polar Bear Club.

“Take your time — don’t shock your body,” said Karen Schmidt. “I know you want to run right in, but you’ll just run right out again.”

Thomas also advised taking your time in the water — especially if you want to take full advantage of the day.

“I find there’s a three-to-four minute barrier — if you can get through that, you can stay in as long as you like,” said Thomas, adding: “I advise jumping in at least up to your neck to get the full benefits.”

But do not stay in the water too long! Another Polar Bear member warned that you might be having a good time in the water, but you don’t want to stay at the party too long.

“When you start to feel like the water is normal — get out! Because you have hypothermia,” he advised.

And once you emerge, you need to have a towel and a set of dry clothes to change into. But avoid clothing with too many buttons or zippers, because your hands may be shaking too much to fiddle with fasteners — think pullovers and sweatpants.

“No laces or buttons,” warned Schmidt. “Because you’ll be shivering.”

New Year’s Day Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge (Coney Island Boardwalk at Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island, www.polarbearclub.org). Jan. 1 at 1 pm. $25 suggested donation.

Reach arts editor Bill Roundy at broundy@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4507.
Updated 8:50 am, December 24, 2018
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