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Hundreds Brave Bitter Cold For Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Despite the frigid weather, hundreds of people took part Monday in Coney Island's annual New Year's Day Polar Bear Plunge.

Temperatures hovered at about 17 degrees for the annual tradition that began in 1903. The water temperature was estimated at 37 degrees.

Some dressed in dinosaur or penguin outfits. Others donned underwear or bathing suits.

"2018! The only way to start is in that cold water," Brooklyn resident Rosalia Perotta told CBS2's Marc Liverman.

Perotta says this is the coldest the air temperature has been in the six year's she's taken the plunge. But knowing that wasn't stopping first time plunger Joe Rock.

"Excitement, the cold water -- two seconds in, two seconds out," he said. "It shouldn't be bad."

Other plunges in the Tri-State area were cancelled because of the bitter blast, including one in Ocean City and another in Ventnor, New Jersey.

"We do have lifeguards here, there are some emergency workers. We have a whole crew of volunteers so we're going to keep our eyes out make sure everyone stays safe," said Josh Kalin with the Coney Island Polar Bear Club.

But Kalin says their biggest concern for participants is not the cold.

"People bump into each other, they fall down. People try and dive into the water when it's too shallow," he said. "That's actually our biggest concern."

Dennis Thomas, president of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, estimated participation was lower than last year because of the cold.

The Coney Island club is the oldest winter bathing organization in the U.S. and proceeds from the annual plunge go to Camp Sunshine, which helps kids with life-threatening illnesses.

And they don't just do it on New Year's Day either. The club swims every Sunday from November through April.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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