Less than 24 hours before Long Island was buried once more in snow, the sun was shining and the mild weather drew thousands to the beach on Sunday for the 15th annual Long Beach Polar Bear Super Bowl Splash.
“At 11 a.m., there weren’t that many people here; we were nervous,” event co-founder Pete Meyers said. “Now I think it’s going to be the biggest ever. It’s 50 degrees and sunny out. People are dying to get out of the house.”
Thousands flocked to this year’s event to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses. “It was an enormous crowd,” said Gordon Tepper, the city’s director of communications. “It was a phenomenal turnout, and they raised a ton of money for charity, which is what it’s all about.”
The event began informally in 1998, when Meyers and his friend Kevin McCarthy decided to take a dip in the ocean on the morning of the Super Bowl. As it became an annual tradition, more and more people joined in, Meyers said, and they decided to turn it into a fundraiser for Make-A-Wish in honor of their friend Mike Bradley’s son, Paulie, who had died of cancer in 1997, at age 4. Bradley’s wife, Patti, died in 2009, and the event now honors her as well. Since the event became a fundraiser, it has helped grant the wishes of more than 300 kids.
“The Polar Bear Splash, in conjunction with Make-A-Wish, is the epitome of what makes Long Beach awesome,” said City Councilman Anthony Eramo, who has been among the swimmers every year except for one since moving to Long Beach 10 years ago. “It’s not just during tragedy, like Hurricane Sandy, when our community comes together to help others.”
Last year’s Splash had a somewhat different tone; it was held just three months after Hurricane Sandy, the boardwalk had been demolished and many Long Beach residents were still displaced. But the event had record participation, organizers said, with people coming from all over the tri-state area to show their support for a community still reeling from the storm.
This year, a bit of normalcy was restored — flags lined the railings of the new boardwalk at Riverside Boulevard, from which spectators watched the massive crowds on the beach.