After hours at the beach

As day turns to night on the Ninth Street beach in Ocean City, one last family photo is taken at 8:23 p.m. Most of the lifeguard stands are empty, and beachgoers are warned not to enter the water. But plenty of people stay out on the beach well past the sun's departure, and not solely for the absence of New Jersey's beach-tag checkers. The George family, for example, has made a habit of it. Says Katie George, 25: "My grandfather started it. We enjoy each other's company so much we just stay out here."" ED HILLE / Staff Photographer
As day turns to night on the Ninth Street beach in Ocean City, one last family photo is taken at 8:23 p.m. Most of the lifeguard stands are empty, and beachgoers are warned not to enter the water. But plenty of people stay out on the beach well past the sun's departure, and not solely for the absence of New Jersey's beach-tag checkers. The George family, for example, has made a habit of it. Says Katie George, 25: "My grandfather started it. We enjoy each other's company so much we just stay out here."" ED HILLE / Staff Photographer

Second shift in the sand starts when the sun gets low in the sky. No beach tags. But, in some cases, no lifeguards, either.

Posted: August 10, 2014

OCEAN CITY - By late afternoon, the exodus was in full swing. Carting beach equipment, doing a little Kabuki dance of will-this-car-stop-for-me, a steady stream of people headed off the beach and across Central Avenue.

With lifeguards on most beaches headed home, and the boardwalk starting to liven up, it would seem the beach portion of the day was all but over.

But for people like Martina Wilkerson, a teacher from Vineland, and her teenage beach crew, things were just getting started. In fact, all around them on the beach, people were arriving or transitioning into twilight mode.

"I always come after hours," Wilkerson said. "It's just relaxing."

And the evening was lovely. She sat under two umbrellas positioned to block the sun, its rays shining through the colorful canvas as it set over Curly's Fries on the Boardwalk behind her.

Despite the best efforts of beach patrols to declare the ocean "closed" when they leave, many people's beach days begin when lifeguards' - or beach tag checkers' - days end.

The after-hours culture has proved challenging for beach patrols, which have experimented with extended shifts, scolding warning signs, and teams of lifeguards who patrol by jet ski on the late shift.

This summer, after Corinthian Hammond, 14, of Philadelphia, drowned off the Ninth Street beach, Ocean City added lifeguards to three more beaches until 8 p.m.

This week, a 59-year-old woman was rescued and dramatically revived off unguarded South Carolina Avenue in Atlantic City after being caught in a rip current at 7 p.m. Lifeguards several blocks away reached her by jet ski.

But a few nights with the after-hours crowd in Ocean City makes it plain: People are undeterred by rip currents, empty lifeguard stands, or the waning light or warmth when they want to take their notion of a beach day into the night.

"We like it because we can put our beer in our cozies," says Debbie Verner of Marlton, starting a late-night stint on 34th Street. She is part of the culture of diehards who just don't leave - a particular phenomenon perhaps of weekly rental havens like Ocean City, where people pour everything into their one week, including alcohol, in this not-really-dry dry town.

"The lifeguards left and we just looked at each other," said Karen Abruzzo of Plymouth Meeting, toasting pal Sheryl Herron.

Others - for various reasons like work, modesty, Ramadan, a desire to not buy beach tags for large groups, toddler naps - first arrive in the evening.

For some visitors from the west, even the near west like Erie, it is a bit disappointing to face an inescapable reality of Jersey beach sunsets: as lovely as the dusk rays are that spread over the sky, the sun, in fact, does not set over the Atlantic.

This leads to sunset rituals a bit more subdued than, say, Venice Beach.

"To me, what's not special is the sunset itself - this Ocean City sunset can't mess with Presque Isle" on Lake Erie," said Mimi Waldman of Erie.

"What is beautiful here are the clear nights, the moon is out, the light spreads out over the ocean."

The vacated lifeguard stands draw kids hanging off them, or provide private conversation spots for young loves like Sean Wilkinson, 16, and Joanna Moles, 15, of Haddonfield.

Out on the beach, Wilkerson, the teacher, posted a selfie designed to show fellow church members she was listening online to a service from her enviable spot near Ninth Street.

She was glad to see lifeguards newly stationed until 8 p.m., while daughter Alexis, 16, friend Isis, 16, and son Yahi, 17, all swam.

In Ocean City, nearly all the beaches stay packed until dusk. Even on Ninth Street after 8 p.m., with lifeguards finally gone and "Ocean Is Closed" signs, kids go in the ocean.

"We've been calling them in closer and closer," said Byron Danziger, a physical education teacher from Naugatuck, Conn., overseeing Oliver, 8, Matilda, 10, and Sammy, 3, with wife Kristin Bettcher. The Bertha-intensified waves crashed out beyond Oliver. "I was ready to run in if I had to," Danziger said.

"We keep evolving as situations evolve," said Dennis Swan, senior beach patrol lieutenant in Ocean City. "We've always had a lot of people frequent the beach after hours, but we're seeing a much higher frequency of people going in the water, even though it's posted not to."

Swan said lifeguards leaving will make a big show of whistling everyone out. "Lo and behold, as soon as the lifeguards leave, you see people returning anyway, disregarding the warnings."

The typical late crowd is more ethnically diverse than the peak shoobie crowd - after-hours goers often sport head scarves, denim skirts, hijabs, or saris instead of bikinis and baseball caps.

"It's not to avoid beach tags, but for Ramadan," said Purple Queen, 37, a radio host from Chester. Sitting in the midday sun while fasting is not an ideal combination, she said.

Balsam Elbayya, a native of Gaza visiting from Virginia, said the family appreciated the cooler temperatures of the evening beach. As did Tamara Siderio, 39, of Sicklerville, with her daughter and new granddaughter. "Not that many people, and you don't have to pay beach tags," she said.

They left after work, arrived around 6 p.m., set up a tent, put the baby in a special rocker seat - and everyone napped face down in the ocean breeze.

The nighttime crowd can include elaborate meals, such as that of Yodi Langan and her family, who packed a traditional Filipino meal of grilled milkfish, ginataan adobo, and plantains.

Sharliese Smith, down from Connecticut with three sisters and her mother, Thelma, grew up going to Ocean City and said the smaller crowds allow their tightly gathered circle to spread out. "We like it right now," said Valerie Smith. "Everybody's leaving, and our kids will start playing volleyball."

Jaimie Palmer, 6, played along the jetty, the outflow pipe, and the rocks at a spot where Corinthian's family left balloons and held a vigil after the drowning. Nobody seemed too concerned. Jen Vogel, Jaimie's mother, said her kids would live on the beach if they could. "Then they go home and go right to sleep," said Dan Palmer, their father.

And families like the extended George family - their first summer after patriarch Bob George's death - sometimes never go home. On the 32d Street beach one recent evening, two of his adult sons stayed talking, listening to Springsteen at the edge of the ocean, until 5 a.m.

The last few summers, big Bob George, 78, stayed back on the porch, overseeing the reassuring ritual he had created, including his constant refrain of gratitude remembered by granddaughter Megan, 22: "All the time - 'God Bless America!' "

The George family's week is so cherished that they'll bring out glow sticks and dinners. The house they rent is right on the beach, so people go back and forth.

"My grandfather started it," said Katie George, 25. "We enjoy each other's company so much we just stay out here."

For the crew from William Tennant High in Warminster, though, a dozen kids who drove down in three cars and were settling in for an evening on the sand, there was still that one missing aspect of twilight at the Jersey Shore that no one can do anything about.

"It makes me kind of upset because the sun doesn't set over the beach," said Maria Bradley, 16.


arosenberg@phillynews.com

609-823-0453

@amysrosenberg

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|