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Polar Bear Club plunge ‘will never change,' revelers say, despite frigid temperatures

At Coney Island, 1,200 New Yorkers take a dip in the cold waters for a good cause.

What doesn’t freeze you makes you stronger.

About 1,200 people donned their bathing suits and started 2018 by plunging into Coney Island’s water, according to the organizers of the annual Polar Bear Club event. Although temperatures were in the teens and the water was only 37 degrees warm, the revelers who took the dip said they couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the new year.

“The craziness, the cold, I love it. It’s part of my life,” said Ricky Caridi, 59, of Staten Island, who has taken part in the plunge for the last 11 years.

A host of friends, family members and longtime fans of the competition were cheering on the swimmers. While some came with homemade posters, and more importantly hot chocolate, others were more creative, donning costumes, holiday apparel and other festive wear.

Michael Castrulli, 35, of Sunset Park, who has been plunging for more than a decade, spent his pre-swim moments in his purple squid costume, complete with an oversized thermometer dangling from his neck, dancing to the tunes that were playing from a DJ. His sister and friend also joined him with their own fish costumes.

“This is one of the last New York traditions,” Castrulli said. “A lot of things change, but this will never change.”

The brutal arctic blast did put a damper on the crowd size according to Dennis Thomas, the president of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club. The number of registered swimmers was half of that of last year, when the temperature was a balmy 50 degrees, but Thomas noted that the event, which started in 1903, still inspires people to take a dip.

“I think everyone has their own reason for doing it,” he said. “It is moments of utter intensity and immediacy.”

Cathy Vezzi, 36, of Massapequa, who went into the water with her daughter, agreed.

“I like adventure and don’t think the cold really scares people,” she said.

Still, crews took precautions. Dozens of first responders and lifeguards were on hand, the FDNY set up a heat tent for the swimmers and participants were urged to make their swims brief.

Those few seconds were good enough for some swimmers like Tiffany Stokes, 37 of Gravesend, who has been plunging since 2016.

“If I can brave this, I can come back next year. It can’t get any worse, I hope,” she said with a shivering smile.


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