Long Beach officials and organizers of the annual Polar Bear Splash this year are asking participants to forgo the frigid plunge into the ocean and instead splash at home.
Organizers agreed with the city to cancel the annual February plunge because of concerns over the spread of COVID-19. The charity event, which coincides with Super Bowl Sunday, attracts 10,000 to 20,000 people each year and raises about $500,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Pete Meyers, one of the three original founders of the event, said the jump into the ocean couldn’t be done safely on what would have been the event's 21st straight year. Since the Long Beach Polar Bear Club started its annual splash, the group has raised more than $7 million for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and for children with critical illnesses.
"As always, our No. 1 thing is safety. This year is just crazy. If we have it, people are going to come and it’s not safe with 15,000 people. It’s a scary time," Meyers said. "Long Beach is a special place, and people want to get involved in helping charities."
But the Long Beach Polar Bears and the Make-A-Wish Foundation are urging those who would have been daring enough to jump into the ocean to instead do a virtual splash at home. The Polar Bears are taking donations and pledges through Feb. 7, the day of the splash.
Organizers are discouraging anyone from diving into the ocean, but instead form teams to register, fundraise and film videos at home to post online, be it an ice bucket challenge, a dive into a pool or even just a cold shower.
Matt Goldweber, manager of community fundraising with Make-A-Wish's metro New York division, said Long Beach is one of the organization’s largest events.
"It allows us to grant more wishes for the five boroughs and Nassau County," Goldweber said.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation has had to limit many of its wishes this year because of travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, Goldweber said. The foundation has transitioned to more virtual wishes, such as virtual celebrity meetups, but does organize in-person wishes when possible.
Other wishes over the past nine months have included picking out gaming and school computers, room makeovers, virtual shopping sprees, and the delivery of puppies.
Organizers have listed on its website $250,000 as this year's fundraising goal and hope the videos will go viral similar to the popularity of the ALS ice bucket challenge.
The Polar Bears are continuing to sell sweatshirts that have become synonymous around the world with the annual event and represent Long Beach pride. The club is keeping its fingers crossed about returning to the beach in 2022.
"It’s part of the whole spirit of the city, and Long Beach is a very giving community that cares for people," Meyers said. "It’s the first beach party of the year. In a normal year, people sick of being locked in the house want to get out. Unfortunately, we have to do something different this year."
Polar Bear Splash
Began in 2000
Annually attracts 10,000 to 20,000 people
Raises $500,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation every year
Participants are asked to post videos on Feb. 7 using the hashtag #splashathome
More information at site.wish.org/polarbears2021