VENTNOR, N.J. — A taste of winter came early this year, and the reasons to head to the beach in New Jersey quietly blossomed.
One day it was a late summer, local’s summer, with familiar faces spreading out blankets for their toddlers, dogs welcomed anywhere, surfers and cold-water swimmers no longer so rigidly organized and partitioned.
If there was a better place to sit and listen to the Phillies on the radio broadcast as they started their epic postseason run with a dramatic six-run ninth inning against St. Louis, cheers going up from isolated beach chairs as the afternoon sun warmed our faces, people running out of houses and onto the boardwalk joyously, I haven’t found it.
But then, the cold weather blew in, and there it was: a reminder of a Jersey Shore winter, another sublime pleasure, especially if you’re into walks with dogs and not that many people. Alas, my go-to soundtrack for especially cold evenings contemplating deep things was Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak.
Sunset over the Atlantic?
Around this time, the declination of the sun has shifted so that, at least from Absecon Island’s Atlantic City, Margate, Ventnor, and Longport, a sliver of land which is not precisely parallel to the mainland, you can literally see the sun set from the beach.
It’s not over the ocean, you’ll have to head to the Pacific for those sunset rituals, but it’s right in front of you if you’re walking, generally, southward, toward Cape May, to simplify things.
Allow Shore weather ace “Nor’easter Nick” Pittman to explain.
“The position of the sun certainly changes over the course of the Fall/Winter,” he wrote me over Facebook.
“It all comes down to perspective and location,” he says. “On Absecon Island, the sun appears to be setting directly in front of you if walking south on the boardwalk because the island is actually situated NE to SW. Most of the other islands are more north to south.
“That slight jog west makes all the difference as the sun creeps south towards the Tropic of Capricorn, which gives the southern hemisphere their summer. It’s not an illusion, just comes down to how the islands sit geographically.”
Thanks Nick. It is truly lovely.
The sky this time of year is just beautiful, the oranges spreading out like your personal watercolor palette. The ocean seems a crisp navy blue.
Pittman likes heading to Cape May, where the Victorian houses are decorated and “ready for the festive season.”
“Many folks think about our shore only during the summer for obvious reasons, but there are still plenty of things to do during the winter, you just have to be creative,” he said.
I’m still hoping to see some outdoor ice skating brought to the Boardwalk one of these years.
Trees on a beach
This year, developer Bart Blatstein imported a 50-foot balsam spruce from North Carolina to put up on the Boardwalk near Showboat, a somewhat rare sight on Atlantic City’s Boardwalk. Blatstein claimed it was the first-ever decorated tree on the Boardwalk, but the folks at Bartram Avenue have had a 30-foot tree in the park along the Boardwalk in years past.
And the truth is, you’re always seeing trees pop up in the sand. People just bring them down there, because, well, it’s cool to see a Christmas tree on a beach. Weird things are always happening during winter near the beach, like Santa showing up in a lifeguard boat, a tradition that truly charmed me from the start.
Margate decorates its Jerome Avenue park in a beautifully serene way, and in Wildwood, Holly Beach is running light shows every 20 minutes on Dec. 9, 10, 16, and 17, along with complimentary hot chocolate and popcorn. On Hannukah, a giant firelit menorah will cast lovely shadows outside the Chabad in Ventnor, as chocolate gelt rains from the sky.
And when it snows, as it has a lot in recent years, the beach is a breathtaking palate of grays and whites.
People cross-country ski on the boardwalk; kids sled and snowboarding down the dunes, or down the boardwalk ramps. Creative, like Noreaster Nick says.
And there’s good old winter surfing. That’s the sport that never ends, the only thing that changes is the thickness of the wet suit.
Pittman’s predicting more of a “traditional” winter down the Shore, as opposed to last year, when a blizzard and other storms blasted 30-plus inches of snow on beach towns. He’s predicting in the range of 8 to 12 inches this year at the shore, and temperatures 2 to 3 degrees above normal. Personally, I’ll root for more snow.
It’s always a bit of a thrill to see the surfers bobbing in the chilly surf. And of course, my dog will go in any time of year. As long as there’s a tennis ball involved.
Perhaps the most tribal tradition of them all are the various Polar Bear Plunges, most on New Year’s Day, Sea Isle’s over Presidents’ Day Weekend.
The trucks come out on the beach, the bathrobes and Ugg crowd fortifies itself, and the gang is all there, like it’s the middle of July. Only better.