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Coney Island ‘Polar Bears’ defy rules for New Year’s ocean plunge

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They couldn’t “bear” not to.

The annual New Year’s Day “Polar Bears” swim off Coney Island had been officially canceled Friday, but that didn’t stop a couple hundred renegade die-hards from stripping to their bathing suits and taking the plunge.

“A lot of things I normally do every year got canceled — the Mermaid parade, baseball, all the s–t we normally do that’s traditional,” explained Chris Geiger, 45, who traveled from Glendale to jump into the 50-degree Fahrenheit Atlantic.

“I said, ‘I don’t care. We’re going to do this. It will be quick. We’ll be safe,’” said Geiger.

“This is actually safer than it’s ever been. Normally, it’s so packed, you can’t even walk on the beach. This is nice. This is a lot better than normal.”

The Coney Island Polar Bear Club had announced in November it was nixing the event due to coronavirus concerns, so the 200 to 300 people who took the plunge had no permit and violated city rules banning swimming without a lifeguard.

Still, they maintained social distancing and spread their frigid frolicking out over the space of a few blocks and several hours.

Members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club jump into the ocean.
Members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club jump into the ocean.
Paul Martinka

“It was breathtaking,” Rachael Pollina, 39, of Ridgewood, told The Post.

“I think we just knew we were going to do it anyway because we love it, and honestly, canceling it brought way less than a crowd. So I think it’s actually safer.”

Typically, thousands of people do the dunking as thousands more watch, organizers have said.

But Friday, only about 200 spectators lined the boardwalk or stepped out onto the sand to see the pared-down event.

Among them were a trio of NYPD officers, one of whom shrugged when asked about the apparent violation of no-swimming rules. When a Post reporter pressed, “The crowd’s too big? You can’t arrest everyone?,” the cop answered, “Exactly.”

A 35-year-old rapper from Coney Island who goes by the name Gorilla Nems called the annual rite a “baptism.”

“The Polar Bears aren’t able to do it officially because of coronavirus, so we’re here to show that we’re New York strong, and no matter what obstacles come towards us, we get over that. We persevere through it because that’s what we are. We’re New Yorkers.”

A 21-year-old rapper from Flatbush, who goes by Danse, agreed.

“We’ve got to leave 2020 behind. It’s been a tough year, but you know how it is — out with the old, in with the new,” he said.

“We’re New Yorkers, we’re back. And we owe it to those people that couldn’t come out here — some who passed away in the past year who were annual members — to come and do this.”

Emmett McElory, 19, of New Milford, NJ, wasn’t going to let COVID get in the way of an annual family tradition.

“It’s much different this year, not a huge crowd,” he said. “But after what we’ve gone through in 2020, it’s hopefully a better start to a better year.”  

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