Tag Archives: Stillwell Avenue

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.