The Regretful Faces of New Year's Polar Bear Club Plungers

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While most of us drink and dance and make regrettable decisions, members of the Polar Bear Club all over the world ring in the new year with a life-affirming plunge into icy ocean water. And that becomes its own regrettable decision for some. 

True winter bathers don't limit themselves to a New Year's swim. The Coney Island Polar Bear Club meets every Sunday from November through April for the frigid sport. The Coney Island chapter has been operating for over a century, and has the type of roots you would expect from a group that bathes off Coney Island in the cold: 

The Coney Island Polar Bear Club was founded by Bernarr Macfadden in 1903. While virtually unknown today, Bernarr Macfadden (1868-1955) was called the "Father of Physical Culture." An early advocate of physical fitness, natural foods and physical exercise, he believed that "our bodies are our most glorious possessions, that health-wealth is our greatest asset . . . that weakness is truly a crime . . . that every man can be a vigorous vital specimen of masculinity: that every woman can be a splendidly strong, well poised specimen of femininity."

The club's website adds that many considered Macfadden a "kook and a charlatan," but that "few people of his generation did as much to advance the cause of physical fitness, healthy eating habits and the natural treatment of disease." 

In Seattle, Polar Bear plungers earn a Badge of Courage if they enter the water up to their necks. According to the Seattle parks website, the tradition began in 2003. The site jokes that there are two kinds of bathers: 

Said one Parks wag, Tim Ewings, "Plungers are 'polarized' towards two styles. Some luxuriate in the refreshingly brisk waters. Others only stay in as long as they can 'bear' it."
Here is a group of bathers preparing to enter the water in Seattle. They look excited! 

REUTERS/David Ryder
Well, except for this kid. This kid seems to be wondering if this was really such a good idea after all. Or maybe he's only just realizing that most other participants are wearing shoes, and maybe he should have worn shoes? The plunge is open to all, and some first-timers appeared to be instant converts. Eddie Law, who participated in the Coney Island event, described the experience to the New York Daily News, "I went in and I'm dying, but I want to go in one more time. It's invigorating!" He also said that the dive "felt like death." One diver, six-year-old Naima Soto told the Daily News that it was her third time at the new year's Coney Island dive. She said "I was scared and cold, like the whole world was going to end," but added, "If I hadn't done it I'd regret it."

It seems like Law and Soto weren't the only ones who felt the swim was apocalyptic. Though we don't have testimony from the brave souls featured below, we see from their faces that they feel they've made a horrible mistake. 

Seattle, Washington. REUTERS/David Ryder 

Seattle, Washington. REUTERS/David Ryder

Seattle, Washington. REUTERS/David Ryder 

Seattle, Washington. REUTERS/David Ryder 

Ottawa. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Coney Island. REUTERS/Allison Joyce

Portland, Maine. REUTERS/Joel Page
Congratulations on the icy feat, Polar Bears. Here's to making a horrible New Year's mistake, and maybe deciding to do it again next year. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.