This article from yesterday's Wall Street Journal starts to get the idea of what it's like to train on the 1 mile stretch between Brighton Beach and Coney Island, but you really have to go there to experience the true culture. Like many parts of Brooklyn, it feels like a foreign country that's only a 45 minute subway ride away from Manhattan. Once you find the secret meeting spot on the beach (which is on the CIBBOWS.org website), you'll feel right at home, surrounded by a group of like-minded swimmers.
Only a few triathletes make the trip out, but more should. It is well worth the $2.25 subway fare!
Just remember, bring lots of warm clothes and map out a route directly to a diner for hot chocolate after the swim!