“People want [normalcy]. This is Long Beach, this is what we do,” said Kevin McCarthy, co-founder of the Long Beach Polar Bear Club.
Less than a week after Sandy struck, McCarthy said people were asking about the fate of this year’s Long Beach Polar Bears Superbowl Splash. Though his and his neighbor’s houses were destroyed, everyone he spoke with had the same goal — the annual event must go on.
“Long Beach got hit so bad, a lot of people lost everything,” said McCarthy. “We’re going to rebuild our lives, but our homes and the possessions we lost, it’s nothing compared to when you have a sick kid.”
This year’s Polar Bear Splash, now in its 14th year, will no doubt be different. Because of the boardwalk demolition, the main entrance and bandstand has been moved from Riverside to Grand boulevards, while Washington and New York avenue beaches will also be used as entrances.
“It’s unique this year, but it’ll be a terrific opportunity for everyone to get on the beach in 2013,” said Long Beach Director of Communications Gordon Tepper.
The unofficial splash began in 1998, when McCarthy and his friend Pete Meyers decided to take a dip in the ocean on Superbowl morning. As people found about what they did, more and more wanted to join. They decided to turn it into a fundraising event to benefit the Make-a-Wish Foundation, in honor of friend Mike Bradley’s son Paulie, who had died of cancer in 1997, at age 4. Paulie never got his wish, but the event has raised money to grant the wishes of well over 300 kids so far. Bradley’s wife, Patti, passed away in 2009, and the event now honors her as well.
Last year, there were 7,000 people in the water, 15,000 people total, and they raised over $600,000, bringing the total amount they have raised for Make-a-Wish over the years to $3 million.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, however, organizers are expecting a record turnout this year due in part to the show of support for Long Beach. “The first year we raised $8,000 and we were so proud,” McCarthy said. “[Now], we sit back some times and we say ‘wow.’”