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ETC - Beach Bias
07/03/2012 - By Steve Froias
Belmar was justly proud recently when it was announced that the borough's beach was voted #1 in Monmouth County and #5 in the state.
Those rankings come courtesy of the Top Ten Beaches Competition, sponsored by New Jersey Tourism, the NJ Sea Grant Consortium, and the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Coastal Research Center.
Belmar Mayor Matthew Doherty said upon learning the news, “We are excited to win this prestigious award. We are proud of the positive changes we made to the beach, and we look forward to a great summer season.”
Assemblyman Sean Kean of Monmouth County commended Belmar for maintaining an excellent stretch of beach in a press release. Because as we all know, politicians are always happy when something good happens on their watch that doesn't involve property tax reform. “As a frequent visitor to the municipality and the beaches and boardwalk in Belmar, I salute Mayor Doherty and the residents of Belmar for their outstanding achievements on behalf of the effort to bring notoriety and success to the municipality.”
Born and raised in Massachusetts at the gateway to Cape Cod, however, I've always held a somewhat jaundiced view of Jersey beaches. Yes, everything you've heard about Hyannis and Provincetown is true. Both communities boast beaches so big and beautiful that the Kennedys colonized the former and the gays the latter. In Jersey, the hair is higher than the sand dunes – and they actually make you pay to get on ‘em!
Be that as it may, over my years here I have, like a true New Jerseyan, developed beach bias. Yes, whether you know it or not, as an outsider it is my duty to break the news to you that you are most likely prejudiced in a way you never really knew. You, too, no doubt practice beach bias.
I've observed that Jersey folk are as passionately devoted to their beaches as they are to either the Giants and the Yankees or the Jets and Mets (both pairings not at all random but the subject of another column).
Geography plays a part. The first seaside community I landed in after a brief stop in Howell was Ocean Grove. Naturally, I planted my umbrella by the Victorian enclave’s historic Fishing Pier. Ocean Grove's beach was blissfully commercefree and relatively quiet. Back then, Belmar was honky-tonk and too much of a culture shock for a genteel New Englander.
Yet soon, when I made plans to go to the beach with co-workers, I learned that for Shark River Hills residents, Avon-by-the- Sea was their sandy Shangri-La. But why can't we meet in Ocean Grove, I sputtered...? Because Avon was THEIR beach, was the coolly delivered answer.
And so, as I struck up more and more friendships, I became a sort of beach trollop, flip-flopping down various boardwalks experiencing vicarious love for beaches which would never be my own. My family had not come coasting down Sylvania Avenue for generations to reach the waterline nor had they hurtled down Route 195 to Belmar ever since I was a baby - as so many of my new compatriot’s had. The unbreakable bond between themselves and their beaches was stronger than any newfound friendship, and thus Ocean Grove was my spurned lover for many summers.
But gradually, as my New Jersey-ness began to assert itself, I rediscovered the former flame which burned my feet and re- embraced the peaceful space – and easy walking distance – that the Grove offered. You see, Ocean Grove is MY beach.
It shares some affection with the newly redeveloped waterfront of Asbury Park these days, however, and I justify that capriciousness by recalling Cape Cod and turning up my nose altogether at the tiny strips of sand called 'beaches' in New Jersey. But I will never believe that Belmar has the Best Beach in Monmouth County or is ranked Number 5 in the state. I've now eaten too much pork roll not to put up a fight for Ocean Grove.
Still, it must be recognized that Belmar’s boisterous image has undergone a transformation in recent years. As the borough points out, “Our staff cleans and grooms the beach every morning, and smoking is prohibited on every beach and boardwalk, except in designated smoking areas. We have a stellar team of lifeguards, police, first aid, water rescue and fire department members ready to assist customers when needed.”
“Belmar’s beaches have activities for children like boogie boarding, kayaking and surfing. We offer a surf camp at 3rd Avenue where visitors of all ages can take surfing lessons. For active beachgoers who prefer dry land activities, several of our beaches are equipped with poles for volleyball nets; even if you don’t have your own equipment, it’s easy to join a game.”
The sprinkles on the ice cream, though? “When compared to surrounding beach communities’ 2011 prices, our season beach badge is the lowestpriced at $50 and our $7 daily badge is the second lowest,” they state.
So that win comes with an asterisk. * They cheated!
Excuse my bluntness. I’m from Jersey now.
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