‘Brr’ing On 2018 With A Rockaway Polar Plunge

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For locals, the New Year’s Day Polar Plunge is more than a crazy stunt. It’s a true Rockaway tradition spanning for more than five decades, where hundreds gather together on the beach in their skivvies, and wait for the countdown to sprint into the chilly Atlantic Ocean. Frigid temperatures, and snow, ice and sleet could be on the ground, but that does not deter the brave from diving in. With seven- to 70-year-olds joining in, age is not a factor. All that is required is fortitude and the iconic Rockaway Strong spirit.

According to Laura Pulkoski, her husband, Tom, has been taking the plunge for more than four decades and spearheaded the plunge that now takes place on Beach 119th. “Tom started doing it in the Beach 140s over 40 years ago. Then he decided to bring it down to Beach 119th, where he and other friends dubbed it, ‘The 119th Street Dip.’

“Our son, T.J., joined in when he was only four years old. Then all his friends told their friends, and it just grew every year. You see people coming down from their apartment buildings dressed in their bathrobes with just their swimsuits underneath. It’s an intimate community New Year’s tradition that has immensely grown to more than 150 people lining up on Beach 119th, gearing up to sprint into the ocean on the count of 10. We are not an organized group, just generations of families and friends who show up. Now my son is 30, and has moved to California, but we are hoping to have an offshoot there doing the plunge in honor of Rockaway. Of course, California is much warmer, but ultimately it could never outshine the Rockaway spirit here!”

Nothing has seemed to stop this annual tradition. Broad Channel resident, Dan Guarino, is perhaps a Johnnie (or Dannie)-come-lately to the plunge, but after witnessing hundreds of locals coming out to the event just a mere two months after Hurricane Sandy, his heart was moved. “I had gone down to Beach 146th on the morning of New Year’s Day just after Sandy. Everything was storm-washed, and I saw these literally broken houses that looked like they were punched by a giant. I was sitting in my car, watching the dismally grey and overcast sky, and then suddenly around 11:30 a.m., all of these cars started pulling in. By the time the cars were unloaded, there were at least 300 people lining the beach, and by noon, at least half of them went into the water. As I am sitting there, waiting to take photos, former Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder appears and says to me, ‘I am here for the plunge. Do you want to go in?’ At the time, I was unprepared, and declined. However, I will never forget what he said to me: ‘There are people here who don’t even have houses now, but they felt they had to come down and do this anyway to keep this Rockaway tradition going.’”

Guarino said he would never forget the conversations he had with people on the beach that day. “They said, ‘Yes, we are wiped out after the hurricane, but we felt we had to come down and represent the Rockaway Strong spirit,’” Guarino shared.

Since that eye-opening New Year’s Day in 2013, Guarino said that he has been going every year to join in. “Every New Year’s Day, I cross the bridge from Broad Channel, and head to the beach to join in on the plunge. The community feeling and spirit is so strong that after the initial shock of the ocean’s chill, plunging in feels like a cleansing, and opportunity to start anew together,” he said.

This year's plunge is expected to be extra chilly with a high of 21 and a low of 12 on Monday, January 1. All are welcome to join in on the plunge, and no hard feelings if you’re not brave enough to take the dive, feel free to come down and cheer folks on. Here are areas you can go. Just don't be a minute late as you will miss out on the fun. The following plunges start promptly at noon:

Beach 119th Street Dip: Meet on the beach and get ready for the countdown as folks plunge in.

Beach 127th ‘Walrus’ Plunge: Get ready for a regatta cannon start. T-shirts will be sold at $20 a pop. While kids are warming in the hot tub, adults get treated to libations and food at Richy’s garage on Beach 127th.

Beach 146th: This is the original polar plunge that ignited the chilly tradition. Be prepared for a fun inter-generational dash into the Atlantic.

For folks who are looking for an earlier start, at 10 a.m., head down to Beach 124th’s arctic plunge, where folks dash into the ocean faster than the speed of sound.

 

Photos by Dan Guarino and Rita Tortorelli.

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