Just Keep Swimming: The Coolest Aquatic Winter Adventures in NYC

Finding adventure in New York City is easier than you think. And nothing says adventure quite like winter swimming in the city.
It seems counterintuitive to jump in a body of water when New York feels like the Arctic. It’s not necessarily the most rational or logical way to get your kicks. But there’s something exhilarating about winter swimming, and it provides a perfect opportunity for guilt-free refueling afterwards. How else are you going to stay warm?

Rockaway Beach

Surfing in New York requires dedication. The best time to be in the water is the worst time to be outside: winter. Knowing when to paddle out requires constant monitoring of surf conditions, the right equipment, and a dogged persistence in getting out to the ocean, no matter the temperature.

Getting into the water in mid-December is certainly not for the faint of heart (or beginners), but for those with the desire there are a couple of surf companies who will take you out in the water from November through March. The experts at Locals Surf School offer excellent private lessons for $103.

Coney Island Polar Club

For the last five years, Dennis Thomas’s winter Sundays have been particularly refreshing. From November to April, Thomas leads members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club into the Atlantic Ocean. The group meets every Sunday at the New York Aquarium Education Hall on the Boardwalk at West 8th Street by 12:30pm.

Guests are welcome to join any regularly scheduled swim. Bring your bathing suit (required), a towel and surf boots (highly recommended) and a warm change of clothes. It’s more fun if you can convince a friend to tag along, someone to hand you a warm towel and take that instagrammable photo on the beach.

The New Year’s plunge is the highlight of the group’s calendar, when up to 2,000 swimmers and 6,000 spectators show up to blow away hangovers and raise funds for children with serious illnesses.

Riverbank State Park

Inspired by urban rooftop designs in Japan, this 28-acre, multi-level recreational facility offers a wide range of activities on the banks of the Hudson River in Harlem. Housed atop the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant are five major buildings, including an Olympic-size (indoor) pool which is open October – Labor Day. 50 meters long and eight lanes wide, swimmers travel counterclockwise within lanes marked slow, medium, fast and very fast under the watchful gaze of local lifeguards.

Pool fees are just $2 for adults and $1 for kids 5-15 years old. Children 4 years and under are free. Affordable monthly passes are also available. Click here for additional information.

Spa Castle

Located in a secluded part of Queens is a four-story building with a bright orange façade surrounded by auto part shops and old warehouses. Inside Spa Castle, the ambiance is anything but industrial. After entering through a pair of faux castle doors, there’s a Willy Wonka-esque selection of pools, hot tubs and saunas.

At $40 for a full day during the week, $50 on weekends, the Queens Spa Castle location draws stately Upper West-siders and hungover Williamsburg-types alike, to bathe in single-sex pools, sprawl on the heated floor of the nap area, and to submit to the merciless Korean exfoliation technique known as the body scrub.

Photo credit: Lars Plougmann and Spa Castle

Check out Gordon Macrae’s New York City Beach Guide for more aquatic adventures near NYC.

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