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Long Beach polar plunge brings 7,000 swimmers to cold waters

People run from the icy ocean waters during

People run from the icy ocean waters during the Long Beach Polar Bears' annual Super Bowl Splash to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017. Credit: Steve Pfost

Thousands of swimmers braved chilly temperatures Sunday — both on land and in the ocean — for the annual polar bear plunge in Long Beach.

The Long Beach Polar Bear Club has hosted its Super Bowl Splash since 2000 to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The event honors Paulie Bradley, a 4-year-old Long Beach boy who dreamed of becoming a lifeguard, but died in 1997.

On Sunday, about 7,000 swimmers ran into the water as another 10,000 people watched and waited, their cellphones recording videos of the splashes and shrieks.

The event is expected to raise about $500,000 for Make-A-Wish, according to co-organizer Pete Meyers.

About 20,000 people attended last year’s plunge, officials said.

Air temperatures were estimated between 35 and 40 degrees early Sunday afternoon, with winds about 15 mph. The ocean’s temperature, Long Beach Chief of Lifeguards Paul Gillespie said, was about 40 degrees.

Swimmers arrived early, covering the sand with blankets, beach chairs and even tents to keep out the cold. Most were bundled in several layers to conserve their body heat, though Liam Sullivan, 10, of Long Beach said it’s better to keep the clothes light pre-plunge.

“When you get in [the water], you won’t feel that bad,” he said as he waited with his mother, Christine Flynn, and brother, Connor Sullivan, 7.

Maya Riven, 30, of Merrick and her friend Lisa Asdahl, 33, of Wantagh sipped drinks from thermoses on the sand.

“It’s a really good experience. Everybody should do it at least once,” Riven said. She offered advice to other plungers: “Get your socks on first” when you come out of the water.

Organizers and participants lauded the plunge’s community feel.

“It’s a great Long Beach tradition that’s grown dramatically over the years,” said City Manager Jack Schnirman, who was about to take his sixth dive into the cold water. “It’s incredible, it’s inspiring. . . . This is what Long Beach is all about.”

Natanel Hershko, 12, of Oceanside sprinted into the water as his father, Eli Hershko, and brother, Itai, watched from the surf — backpedaling as a wave rushed in and nearly soaked their feet — and recorded it on a cellphone.

“He tries to convince me every year to join him and I just refuse,” Eli said as he wrapped his son in a giant bathrobe, followed by a parka, blanket, hat and socks. Natanel, a two-time plunge veteran, also swapped his dripping swim trunks and waterproof shirt for long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

Carly Siegel, 16, of Lido Beach has been doing the Super Bowl Splash every year since she was 5. On Sunday, she jumped in with three friends from Long Beach High School and said it’s “really, really cold this year.”

“It makes it more fun to be cold,” she said. “That’s the whole point of it.”

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