“This is where it all started,” said Long Beach Polar Bear Club co-founder Kevin McCarthy of the Grand Boulevard location of this year’s Super Bowl Splash. “We lived in this neighborhood.”
Despite the lack of boardwalk and a 30 percent chance of snow, the 14th annual mass plunge in the Atlantic was still a resounding success, drawing a record crowd of about 20,000 and raising at least $500,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Many were glad — and surprised, that Long Beach kept the Polar Bear tradition alive while dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Some changes were made to the event’s setup, like moving the main entrance from Riverside to Grand boulevards. But the massive crowd couldn’t be contained, and at the height of the event, Splashers spread from New York Avenue, to the West, to Washington Avenue, to the East.
“It was bigger and better than ever,” said Gordon Tepper, the city’s director of communications. “It was a tremendous opportunity for people to get onto the beach for the first time since the storm, and it’s for a terrific cause.”
But other than the new location, many agreed that the biggest difference in this year’s event was what it symbolized. Although the goal of the day was to raise money for Make-A-Wish, many participants came from all over Long Island — and beyond — to show their support for Long Beach in these tough times.
“One word to describe the people of Long Beach – resilient,” said first-time participant Brian Jasinski of North Bellmore. “… Just with everything that happened, I wanted to show my support and be a part of the community.”
This was the first time many out-of-towners had seen the beach since the storm. Older folks reminisced about their memories of the boardwalk. All sounded optimistic about Long Beach’s ability to rebuild. But young or old, local or first-timer, it was a sobering sight to look down the beach and only see concrete stanchions where a bustling boardwalk once stood.
“It’s really upsetting to see the [supports] instead of the boardwalk,” said Matthew Connolly, of Valley Stream. “But Long Beach is the city that will never die.”