Thousands of swimmers braved the cold and tackled the waves as they rushed into the Atlantic Ocean in Long Beach on Sunday during the largest annual polar bear plunge on Long Island.
For many participants of the 17th annual Make-A-Wish Long Beach Polar Bears Super Bowl Splash, Super Bowl Sunday isn’t complete without a quick dip in the ocean. On this cloudy Sunday, temperatures reached a high of 42 degrees, with the ocean temp at 43 when the event kicked off at 12:30 p.m.
“It was super cold,” said 14-year-old Gabriella Scheer, who whooped it up on the beach with excitement after taking the plunge for the first time with her friend and sister. “It got my blood pumping!”
The tradition began in 2000 to honor the memory of Paulie Bradley, a 4-year old beach lover who passed away before his wish of playing on the sand in Puerto Rico could be realized. Since then and thanks to the large crowd they draw, the Long Beach Polar Bears swim has become a major fundraiser for the Metro Make-A-Wish Foundation. Last year, they raised $485,000 and granted 57 wishes for children with terminal illnesses.
An estimated 10,000 swimmers and onlookers gathered on the beach for the plunge, according to a law enforcement official. The sand was crunchy and frozen, but the mood jubilant. Crowds lined the beach, some warming under portable heaters in “warming stations” sponsored by SunNation Solar Heating and Race Awesome.
Many swimmers wore typical beach gear, such as tiny bikinis and board shorts, although some dressed up for the occasion. One wore a Batman costume, another was decked out in full-sized banana suit and a group donned Nordic god costumes, complete with horned helmets. A group of over-50 year-old women sported bathrobes and pajama pants, clutching Styrofoam cups of hot coffee. A girl in sweatshirt and a horse head mask also joined in the fun.
Many profanities were uttered as swimmers emerged from the frigid waters.
Some swimmers started their Super Bowl Sunday at area bars, taking a nip of something boozy to sustain them through the icy plunge.
Tara Ford, 40, of Astoria, Queens began her day with friends at the Half Moon Café with a mug of Guinness she hoped would warm her up. Patrons of the bar passed around a jar to collect donations for Metro Make-A-Wish. They collected $1,800.
She began this tradition—three years in the making—at her brother-in-law’s behest. Her initial ocean dip was on a rare 50-degree February day. This year, she was not so lucky, but despite the cooler temps, she braved the water again.
Her favorite part of the event? “After!” she said.
Tim Breyer, 33, of Levittown, marked his 11th annual Polar Plunge this year.
“It’s fun!” he said. “It makes you feel alive.”