7 Places to Take a Polar Bear Plunge for Charity on New Year’s Day

polar bear plunge

There’s no better way to fight a hangover on New Year’s Day than with an icy polar bear plunge, especially when freezing your tail off means supporting a good cause.

On New Year’s Day, you can curl up in a ball chasing the hair of the dog, or you could partake in an alternative hangover cure: a polar bear plunge. It will require great fortitude and a strong heart because you’ll be jumping into a cold body of water — on purpose. The shock your system receives will surely make it forget how the room was spinning when you woke up. Granted, a polar bear plunge sounds like something reserved for masochists, but for the sake of charity, people — young, old and in between — do it on New Year’s Day. And they’re not all suffering from a hangover.

Just in case “it’s for charity” isn’t enough to convince you to plunge into a freezing body of water, here’s some interesting information on the practice. Studies have found it can improve lymphatic and cardiovascular circulation, reduce muscle inflammation (there’s a reason athletes take ice baths), increase endorphins (which can give you a more positive disposition and treat depression symptoms), increase weight loss and even boost your libido (happy New Year, indeed!). Author and life coach Tony Robbins reportedly takes a dip in a cold plunge pool every morning. When Robbins uses the river next to his Idaho home, he describes the effect on his body as “every organ, every nerve [being] on fire.” If that doesn’t sell you on it, I don’t know what will.

For those who want to go the “freezing my tush off for charity” route, here are seven polar bear plunges that will help you achieve your goal on New Year’s Day. And busting out your best costume is completely acceptable behavior.

1. Freezing Scots at Loony Dook

polar bear plunge

The Smurfs enjoy Loony Dook. Photo by Chris Watt

If you can think of a better name for a polar bear plunge–esque event than Edinburgh’s annual Loony Dook, please share. A Hogmanay (Scottish for “New Year”) tradition, “Dookers” are encouraged to don their best fancy dress, which can be a Smurf costume, and give their bodies a big dose of freezing water immersion in the Firth of Forth. Given the shoe requirement, their feet may not instantly go numb. The event is popular, attracting 1,000 Dookers per year — a sellout crowd! A portion of the ticket price is donated to event supporter RNLI, a sea-life-saving service that is separate from the Coast Guard and independent of the government. There may not be a contest for the most creative costume (and Dookers get very creative), but the crowd’s reaction is reward enough.

2. The Coney Island Polar Bear Club

polar bear plunge

Participants take the polar bear plunge at Coney Island. Courtesy of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club

The afternoon of New Year’s Day, The Coney Island Polar Bear Club of New York leads swimmers into the Atlantic Ocean to enjoy the on-average 42.3° Fahrenheit water temperature. It’s free to participate, but a $40 donation is encouraged to benefit its partner, Alliance for Coney Island, in support of the New York Aquarium, Coney Island USA and neighborhood nonprofits. In 2017 2,500 revelers took to the waters on a brisk but sunny day, raising $86,000.

3. In Arizona, Bring a Pickax

Depending on the thickness of the ice on Lake Mary in Flagstaff, you may have to get to the polar bear plunge a bit early with a pickax and ice tongs to help chip a hole big enough to accommodate those who dare to dip. And wear a pair of tennis shoes so a fish hook doesn’t ruin your New Year’s Day fun. Sponsored by the Flagstaff Food Bank and Family Food Center, the event asks participants to bring merely a can of food or two in order to stock the charities’ reserves. A large amount of courage probably helps, too.

4. A Polar Bear Plunge Below the Rockies

The winter chill doesn’t stop residents of Boulder, Colorado, from taking a nippy dip on New Year’s Day. The Boulder Polar Plunge takes advantage of the city’s reservoir, where as many as 600 people brave the cold water. Fund-raising for the event supports the American Cancer Society. And in case you’re wondering: yes, there will be snow in Boulder. The event lays out a red carpet, though, for attendees to keep their feet off the snow when running into the reservoir.

5. Water for Water in Ontario

If jumping into icy Lake Ontario could help bring clean water to a developing country, would you do it? Hundreds do each year in suburban Oakville at Coronation Park, where live music and a festival atmosphere coincide with the aptly named Courage Polar Bear Dip. There’s also a costume contest! This is Canada’s largest polar bear plunge, with proceeds going to World Vision. Since 1995, the event has raised $1,591,000 to fund clean water projects in areas such as Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Mali.

6. Ice Diving in Minnesota

Don’t call ALARC’s annual New Year’s Day event at Lake Minnetonka in Excelsior, Minnesota, a polar bear plunge; it’s an Ice Dive. That’s because the ice on the lake is literally cut into a rectangle to allow people to jump in. The Ice Dive starts early, at 8:30 a.m., which doesn’t give much time for the sun to come out and warm the outside air (the average temperature for January 1 is 23° Fahrenheit, with a low of six). Participants do get a post-dive breakfast burrito and hot coffee or cocoa, plus warm and fuzzy feelings knowing they’re benefiting Ride 2 Recovery, a charity that supports mental and physical rehabilitation programs for wounded veterans.

7. When in Alabama, Head to the River

polar bear plunge

Polar bear plungers at the Tennessee River. Photo by John Godbey / Decatur Daily via Decatur Daily Photography

The Tennessee River is where Alabama residents, or anyone nearby, take the polar bear plunge on New Year’s Day. Organized by the Decatur Polar Bear Club, it’s been happening for more than 30 years. And you don’t just jump in and jump out — participants jump off the pier and swim about 25 yards to exit the river at the boat ramp. Wayne Holliday, the founder of the event, admitted to the Huntsville Times, “There’s no getting into a Zen mode…no preparation, your skin just screams at you.” Meals on Wheels surely appreciates the gesture since proceeds from T-shirt sales go to the organization.

There are other polar bear plunges around the world on New Year’s Day that are just for the thrill (no charity involvement needed) and, just in case you can’t get out of bed but want to participate at some point in your life, for-charity events take place throughout the year. You may not be sold on jumping in, and that’s okay — plenty of people simply come out to support a cause and watch the blue bodies frolicking in the water, or running from it. Just be sure to clap and give participants your support, because it ain’t easy to dive in — and, yes, they do earn bragging rights. end


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