It was amazing. I woke up still a bit drunk of course from New Years Eve. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t excited so much for New Years Eve as I was for the Dip. I met up with my friend Don at the Q train station to head down there. He was dressed up as a polar bear and sewed the costume himself. I donned my viking helmet and a hoola skirt. It was such a gorgeous, sunny morning, mid-40s. Got off the Q train at Stillwell Avenue and ran into first timers who came up to us, b/c it was clear from our attire that we were there for the swim, and they were asking Don questions about whether there was a changing room, etc., and whether it was going to be a “disappointment” since it was so sunny and mild out. The answer was “no,” it was going to be awesome.
We went on to the boardwalk where there were already hundreds of people–soon to be over a thousand, for sure–who were getting ready, trying to find their friends, posing for the numerous photographers. So many elderly people–the classic image is the group of elderly swimmers in their baby attire. A lot of people wore costume-type accessories, like a polar bear cap. But the vast majority of people were there in normal swim gear. All body types, lots of body hair, lots of flab, and then some athletic types, too. And there were still huge mounds of snow all around us. It was pretty funny with our white polar bear, frolicking in it. Then we met up with our friends Donald and Chantel in front of Ruby’s, which was open to all of us polar bear swimmers. Chantel was there with her boyfriend, who wore office attire–dress slacks, buttoned-down shirt and necktie, and was holding a coffee cup. He intended to run into the ocean this way.
Around 12:40 pm we headed down to the beach to strip off our clothes and get into our swimming attire. For me, it meant just taking off my coat and pants and sweater, so that I just had on the bathing suit, hoola skirt and Viking helmet. For Don, he took off his warm, fuzzy polar bear suit to his skivies, and put on his mermaid tail that he has worn for several previous Mermaid Parades. There was a dude playing bagpipes on the sand. I was excited. Then, at 1pm, or thereabouts, I couldn’t even hear the conch shell that supposedly the president of the Polar Bear Club sounds to begin the Dip; instead, it was just a lot of screams and yodels, etc. as we all just dashed into the water.
The initial dip was shocking. The hangover was immediately gone. I just remember screaming, maybe squealing is more like it, and then laughing, as I saw all these people splashing around and wide eyes everywhere in the water. So many wide eyes and gaping/smiling mouths. Lots of hooting/wooting/screaming/laughing. Lots of high-fiving random strangers in the water and leaping around. Before I dipped my head under the water, I took off my Viking helmet and used it as a bucket to dump water on myself. That was pretty invigorating. Chantel was so amazing running into the water with her pink balloons and pink parasol. Her boyfriend looked hilarious with his office attire and paper coffee cup in the ocean and his wet buttoned down shirt clinging to his skin.
After a couple of minutes, we ran out of the water. So many smiles all around at this point. Then after a few moments of screaming “Oh my god!” etc., we all ran back into the water. There were several iterations of this–I ended up going into the water three times. The most I lasted in the water at any given time was maybe six minutes.
The whole thing felt invigorating and awesome. I met so many cool strangers out there. Some swimmers were there by themselves, like this one Aussie man I met. The toughest part was putting on dry clothes. It was almost perfectly timed that the sky became overcast as soon as just about everyone was out of the water. So then, my teeth started chattering and I was shivering and putting on socks was just so slow and difficult. But everyone was just so happy and my friends and I started belting “Happy New Year to You” to the tune of Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday to You.”
Then it was a matter of finding all our friends–this is when I ran into my friend Janos there (didn’t know he was going to be there and he also did the swim) and then we realized that Ruby’s wasn’t serving any beer due losing its liquor license. Then we all went over to Brighton Beach to a Russian restaurant to have much needed food and beer.
Until next year”¦
All photographs by Cecilia De Bucourt