Tag Archives: Coney Island

Happy 2014! Dive Right In, The Water’s Fine.

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge, New Year's Day 2014, Coney Island, Brooklyn, winter swimming,

I’m certified! Post swim at Coney Island.

Happy New Year! I hope it’s off to an incredible start.

After writing my last post of 2013, I thought—what the hell, why watch from the sidelines of life? So I threw myself into the frigid waters of Coney Island with the Polar Bear Club and the rest of the freaky folks who greet the New Year boldly with a running leap.

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge 2014, New Year's Day 2014, Coney Island, Brooklyn

Brrrrr.

And you know what? It wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was downright exhilarating and it’s going down in my book as the best New Year’s Day ever. After a shot of Jameson at Ruby’s, I met a bunch of folks on the boardwalk and we warmed our bones by dancing the afternoon away.

Boardwalk at Stillwell Ave, Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge 2014, New Year's Day 2014, Coney Island

Metrocard Man had unlimited dance moves.

So I started a new tradition and have set my sights on living bravely in 2014. I’m adding new travel destinations and experiences to my list and I hope you are too.  But what was really great is that in taking part in the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge, I raised money for charity and started the year off doing two great things.

Do you have any New Year traditions or travel any place special? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

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So Long 2013—Taking The Polar Bear Plunge.

2012polarbearplunge
As you prepare to celebrate New Year’s Eve, I hope you can look back and see only good things behind you. And while the anticipation around this evening builds, I’ve come to relish New Year’s Day much more than the night before.

The reasons are obvious, of course—a new day, a new year. But the tradition of standing along the shoreline while close to 3,000 people hightail it towards the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean like they were being chased by the hounds of hell is a great metaphor for life. It’s resolution time. None of this sticking your toe in to test the icy waters of change—live bravely and dive right in.

New Year's Baby.

New Year’s Baby.

This year marks the 113th anniversary of the annual Coney Island Polar Bear Club Plunge and it’s a great reason not to sleep in.  For starters, it happens at the reasonable hour of 1:00pm, which gives you enough cushion to make yourself presentable or clear out a fuzzy head. Secondly, it gives you time to either knock up a killer breakfast or pop over to a local diner and start the year off right by treating your self to a good meal. But most importantly, it gets you outside in the salt sea air and deposits you in an energy field of kookiness and courage, with some folks dressed as mermaids, penguins, polar bears or big babies in diapers. Coney’s always let its freak flag fly and with temps forecast for the mid-20s on New Year’s Day, it seems fitting that this annual madness takes place there.

Polar bear plunges happen in Canada, the UK, Netherlands, and in a few more cities across the U.S. but I’m kind of proud of the one we’ve got here in Brooklyn. For starters, with almost every subway line throughout the boroughs barreling directly to Coney, or connecting to a train that does, it’s a destination that you can get to lickety-split. Once you arrive, just head towards the shoreline. You can’t miss it, or the massive crowd all bundled up and bracing themselves for what most folks consider sheer lunacy. People come from around the globe to take part in or witness the plunge.

Hubba-hubba -- The Father of Physical Culture.

Hubba-hubba — The Father of Physical Culture.

The club was founded in 1903 by Bernarr Macfadden, also knows as “The Father of Physical Culture.” He believed a dip in the ocean during the winter could be a boon to one’s stamina, virility and immunity. Considered a bit of a kook himself, he was the kind of person who made things happen. He constantly reinvented himself and in the process became a millionaire. He was also a writer and when he couldn’t get published he started a publishing company. The guy went on to become the most successful publisher of magazines in history. He also inspired people around the world to live healthy. It’s among that kind of spirit, and with that type of energy, that makes it a great way to start the year.

Standing there, you’ll also have a massive smile plastered on your face while you probably think, “better those nuts than me” and hear the screams from what’s on the other end of that running leap. But I don’t think they’re so nuts. Most of us have to be pushed to do something bold or to change. Being around loads of people who brave the freezing water and take that icy plunge inspires me to live on the edge of my comfort zone and stokes the philosophy to “just do it.”

If you’re anywhere throughout the five boroughs on New Year’s Day, wrap up, pack a thermos of hot cocoa or a flash of whiskey and consider coming out to Coney Island. It’s one big love fest and after the plunge the party carries on with the rhythmic beats of a DJ on the boardwalk at Stillwell. And don’t forget your camera.

If you’re going, let me know and maybe I’ll see you there.

Wherever you are in the world, I wish you a safe and Happy New Year!

Friday Night Lights.

Ride it if you dare! (Photo by author.)

Ride it if you dare! (Photo by author.)

As summer winds down, New York City still has some good—and free—stuff left in its back pocket for visitors and locals. If you’re in any of the boroughs this week, you might want to make your way to Coney Island. This historic salty dog defender of American popular culture hosts one of my favorite summer treats every Friday night.

Sadly, tomorrow is the last one of the season but the forecast calls for a sunny day, which will make for a lingering sunset and a clear night. For anyone who wants to dig in and enjoy a full day of sun and sea, then suit up, pack a beach bag with a sweatshirt (you’ll need it later) reading materials, toys, whatever floats your boat, and take the D, F, N or Q Subway train to the West 8th Street-NY Aquarium or the Stillwell Avenue stations in Coney Island. Once you’re on the beach, set up camp close to the shoreline and suck it all in.

An on old merman on the boardwalk with his poodle and his parrot.  (Photo by author.)

An on old merman on the boardwalk with his poodle and his parrot. (Photo by author.)

Coney Island is one of the craziest places on the planet. It’s New Orleans meets Nice, but with lots of wackiness thrown in. It’s where old European women still rock bikinis in their 60’s, 70, 80s, and…seriously. Where Colombians, Ecuadorians, and Mexicans peddle homemade empanadas, tacos, and pastilles, and home boys weave around blankets like roving bartenders hawking Nutcrackers, a cocktail created in Harlem. Where you can swim until your heart’s content and not have to sit in traffic to get home because the subway system makes it so easy.

Old timers tango under a gazebo. (Photo by author.)

Old timers tango under a gazebo. (Photo by author.)

The culture of Coney is a sideshow unto itself. New Yorkers who hang at this beach and boardwalk on a regular basis are salt of the earth people. Some have come since they were kids, others since they came to this country. There’s something about Coney that puts a tattoo on your heart. Like your first love, it’ll never go away.

But let’s get back to Friday. Whether you get to enjoy a full day, arrive for a sunset swim, or hit the beach at twilight—it’s time to get comfy. Relax on your blanket, or walk the boardwalk, and enjoy the night sky as the sun fades out around the Parachute Jump, Deno’s Wonder Wheel, The Cyclone Roller Coaster and the rest of the rides in Luna Park. Then wait for the show to begin somewhere around 9:45pm, although they don’t stand on ceremony at Coney.

Greatest show on earth.  (Photo credit:  Steven Kelly.)

Greatest show on earth. (Photo credit: Steven Kelly.)

At this point, lots of sailboats have come in and bob close to shore. A dull shot followed by a long whistle will ring through the air, and at the same time you’ll feel a BOOM under your blanket as the first rocket sails into the night. From there lay back and enjoy one of the most incredible firework displays. The closer you get, the better.

Coney's smokin' on Friday summer nights.  (Photo credit:  Reid Dodson.)

Coney’s smokin’ on Friday summer nights. (Photo credit: Reid Dodson.)

The grand finale sends it all up in a blaze of glory. The breeze carries the smoky residue from all that dynamite, like a hundred octopus tentacles creeping slowly across the beach as it hangs it in the air. In unison the boats blow their horns, start their engines, and toot back out to sea.

Summer’s almost gone. Coney Island’s a playground for the world, go there and have a blast.

Sunshine Of Your Love.

Cape May, NJ.  (Photo credit: destination360.com)

Cape May, NJ. (Photo credit: destination360.com)

Like a lunch hour, this Memorial Day weekend is a good time to take a break, hook up with friends, or just pause to think about what you’d like to do this summer.  Maybe you’ll pack a bag and hit the high road in search of a life-changing experience, or hightail it out-of-town for some rest and relaxation.  Whatever you’re in search of, don’t discount discovering it in destinations a little closer to home or on the East Coast.  The areas that took a beating from Hurricane Sandy are ready to throw their arms wide open to visitors.

From Cape May to Montauk, Atlantic shorelines and state parks are working fast and furiously to welcome beach goers this weekend.  For those of us who live in the region, these towns and beaches are paradise after a long and dreary winter.   No car?  No worries!  Depending on your point of interest, you can easily hop a train, bus or ferry to visit.  The New Jersey Shore is open for business—that’s the rallying cry up and down their coastline—and southern shore towns are absorbing visitors that traditionally travel to areas further north, where it’s taking a bit longer to recover from the storm’s damage.  Long Island beaches and state parks will re-open this weekend with limited access in some areas.  In the borough of Staten Island, new, modular units made in Pennsylvania will be transported to the beaches to replace the comfort stations destroyed by Sandy.   They look pretty cool and New York City has invested a nice chunk of change for these units, which will pop up this summer in Coney Island and the Rockaways as well.  This is all good news.  These beaches may not all be 100% perfect but the point is, they’re working hard to make sure they’re ready for you.

The famous Rockaway boardwalk is gone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the seashore.  The damaged concession stands are being rebuilt but in their absence NYC food trucks will be out to serve the good grub they’ve become known for on the city’s streets.  Sandy wiped out Rockaway Taco‘s boardwalk café, but fingers crossed, they’ll be up and running soon because these folks dish out some of the tastiest Mexican food this side of the Yucatán, especially their fish tacos.  For anyone with plans to visit the area this weekend—or over the summer—you might want to check out their main location inland, until their beach site is back in service.

Surfing in Rockaway with New York Surf School.  (Photo credit:  New York Surf School)

Surfing in Rockaway with New York Surf School. (Photo credit: New York Surf School)

The surf’s been up with weekend lessons at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, which welcomes all age groups.  If you start now by the end of June they’ll be able to help plant you on a board any day of the week.  Where there’s surfing, there’s yoga on the beach and nothing feels better than a seaside downward dog.  If you’ve got it in your head to transform yourself, check out the Surf Club’s combined retreat.  “A” train subway service to the Rockaways starts back up on May 30, which makes getting there a breeze.

Fort Defiance cocktails.  (Photo credit:  maurice-pundit)

Fort Defiance cocktails. (Photo credit: maurice-pundit)

And then there’s Red Hook, a Brooklyn neighborhood that took a massive hit by Sandy, but true to its tough reputation, is pretty much back in business.  If you’re in NYC this weekend, or you’re a local without plans to get away, here are a few suggestions for a visit to that part of town.  First, start out early.   It’s a funky, waterfront neighborhood that gets great light.  If you fancy a killer cocktail, pay a visit to Fort Defiance, a cafe-bar where owner St. John Frizell will shake up something special for you.  If you can tear yourself away, head across the road to Dry Dock and grab a chilled bottle of whatever white wine wets your whistle, then bop over a few blocks to the Red Hook Lobster Pound for the plumpest and tastiest lobster rolls outside of Maine.  This urban lobster shack is BYOB, so there’s no reason not to run there.  For a more upscale dining experience, book a reservation at The Good Fork, where you’ll enjoy standout food and excellent drinks in a welcoming atmosphere.  If you still have any steam left in you, shimmy on over to Hope & Anchor.  This local diner serves up a few twists on a traditional menu and has a full bar, but it’s the weekend karaoke that has this place pulsing and will get you to unleash your inner rock star.

Hope & Anchor.  (Photo credit: gwenthysfullbrew.com)

Hope & Anchor. (Photo credit: gwenthysfullbrew.com)

The communities affected by Hurricane Sandy last Fall want you to know the welcome mat is out this summer. Memorial Day is about honoring our veterans but we can also take this time to acknowledge all the volunteers—both local and visiting—who dedicated their blood, sweat and tears, to help get these areas back on their feet.  They’ve added new meaning to “summer of love.”

Whether you’re planning a stay-cation or vacation—relax, kick back, appreciate your surroundings and enjoy yourself.  Happy trails!