Polar Bears once again take the plunge


The day was surprisingly “warm,” and excited crowds returned to the boardwalk and sand Sunday and hit the waves in Long Beach to celebrate the 24th annual Long Beach Polar Bear Splash, benefiting Make-A-Wish.

Since its inception in 2000, this event has raised over $9 million to help make wishes come true for local children with critical illnesses.

The splash is held to honor the memory of Long Beach native Paulie Bradley, who passed away from leukemia at age 4 before his wish could be granted. The Polar Bears are motivated by camaraderie, a touch of madness, and a common goal: to honor Paulie’s memory and keep his young spirit alive in others.

Back in 1998, two friends wanted to do a New Year’s Day plunge with the Coney Island Polar Bears for one of their birthdays. They couldn’t make it. So, they took the plunge on their own the next month, on Super Bowl Sunday, in their own city, Long Beach.

The two friends, Pete Meyers and Kevin McCarthy said they invited their neighbors to join them the next time. To their surprise, 18 people showed up at the beach with them the following year. So, for fun, Meyers began making everyone sweatshirts with polar bears on them. Shortly after, the tradition gained a new meaning.

Two of Meyers’s neighbors were Mike and Patty Bradley, Paulie’s parents. They loved the polar bear sweatshirts and asked Meyers and McCarthy if they could begin selling them and donate the proceeds to Make-A-Wish in honor of their son.

This community juggernaut, which started as a small tribute to a little boy, has grown every year. The city of Long Beach now estimates that about 20,000 people show up each year and between 5,000 and 7,000 of them actually jump in the ocean.

The Polar Bear Splash has become the biggest community fundraiser for Make-A-Wish, averaging about $500,000 in donations each year. Most proceeds come from the purchase of polar bear apparel, most notably sweatshirts. However, the donations allow for the foundation to give their greatest gift — hope.

“It’s amazing to watch the energy, joy and enthusiasm of the Long Beach Polar Bears and the Long Beach community in their support of wish kids. Wishes have proven physical and emotional benefits that can lead to better health outcomes for kids with critical illnesses. The commitment and generosity of this community is making a life-changing difference for these children,” said Phil Lussier, president and CEO, Make-A-Wish Metro New York and Western New York. “We cannot thank them enough.”

Last year was the second year back to normal, after the event was virtual in 2021 because of Covid. Instead of ocean bathing, people took “splashes from home,” posting videos of themselves with water falling over their heads. As the thousands of gathered faces showed, the normal, in-person plunge is very much preferred.