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The Jersey Shore On Assignment

The Jersey Shore On Assignment

The Jersey Shore
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Jersey Shore @ National Geographic Magazine
By Cathy NewmanPhotographs by Amy Toensing

With 127 miles (204 kilometers) of beach to play on, just about anything goes—from boardwalk sideshow to casino sizzle.

Read or print the full article.

To: Lynn Addison
From: Cathy Newman
Re: Jersey Shore

Geddoutahere! You want me to cover the entire New Jersey shore in three weeks? For your information that's a 127-mile (204-kilometer) stretch of surf from Sandy Hook to Cape May Point. That's dozens of beaches, all those tourists to elbow out of my way (they made a hundred million trips last year), not to mention these hazards: sunburn, heartburn, mako sharks, card sharks, stepping on jellyfish, being stepped on by jelly sandals.

Editors! Why don't you get a real job?

Dear Lynn: So I packed my sandals and "went down the shore" as they say in Jersey (it is never "going to the beach"). I thought I'd start at the north end and hit the sand in Long Branch. Yeah, right. In my face was a sign saying I needed to purchase a beach badge for five dollars a day. Badge shmadge. In Florida, where I grew up, you never paid a penny to go to the beach. What gives? Carl Jennings, Long Branch's recreation director, calmed me down by explaining that revenue from beach badges underwrites the cost of cleaning and raking the sand, lifeguard salaries, and general maintenance. You can walk on the beach for free, but come with umbrella and chair, and you fork out five bucks.

But even your badge might not get you where you want to go. Twenty years ago the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the public right to use beaches up to the high-tide mark. Problem is you have to get there first, and—badge or no badge—private beach clubs and homeowners often keep people away from the beach fronting their property. When I complained to a woman who owns a summer home in Mantoloking—one of the shore's high-rent districts—she replied that Jersey beaches are within a Frisbee throw of metropolitan areas like New York and Philadelphia, and there have to be limits. That's uppity stuff for a place like Joisey. I'm putting away my sunscreen. Will sit in the shade for the rest of the day.

Here's sand in your eye—Cathy

Dear Lynn: First they tell me there is no Santa Claus. Now they tell me that most sections of the boardwalk at Bradley Beach aren't made of boards at all—they're made of paving bricks. Maybe they should call it a brickwalk! It's a money issue, naturally. Wood boards need to be replaced every seven to ten years; pavers last forever. Towns like Lavallette and Atlantic City, which calls its boardwalk the Boardwalk with a capital B, stick to the tradition of wood. Others like Seaside Park use recycled plastic planks that last up to three times longer than wood. Kids like the plastic boardwalks—no splinters—but there's a hot-foot factor: Plastic turns searing in the sun.
Railroads actually gave rise to boardwalks. In the 1850s, when rails began to connect the Jersey Shore with eastern seaboard cities, tourism bloomed. But hotel managers got fed up with guests tracking in sand, so walkways made of wooden planks were laid down on the beach to save wear and tear on lobby carpets.
It also saved wear and tear on the tourists. "If you want to walk on the sand and not get gritty, then a boardwalk is the way to go," explains Dick Handschuch, a retired principal. He and his pal Sal Marino spent a year walking every inch of the 28 boardwalks and promenades along the shore in the course of writing a guidebook. Atlantic City's five-mile (eight-kilometer) boardwalk is the longest on the shore; Sea Bright's, at 200 feet (60 meters), is the shortest. Dick gives Ocean City three stars for having the friendliest boardwalk; Sal touts the magnificent ocean view from Spring Lake's boardwalk.
See you in September—Cathy

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Online Extra
Read more letters from author Cathy Newman to her editor during her Jersey Shore adventures.
Sights & Sounds
Photographer Amy Toensing takes you on the "classic American vacation" along the Jersey shore.
The Jersey shore makes for great warm-weather fun. What's your favorite summer destination—and why?
E-greet a friend with a summer scene from Cape May.
Final Edit
Rescued from the cutting-room floor is this month's Final Edit, an image of a group of friends baring all at a clothing-optional beach.
Flashback to 1932, when an elephant-shaped building named Lucy drew tourists in Margate City, New Jersey.

More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
"C'mon, let's ride the Somers wheel!" 

That cry could be heard on the Jersey Shore today if not for a twist of fate. In 1891 Williams Somers built an "observational roundabout" on the boardwalk in Atlantic City to give visitors a sweeping view of the sea. Although it was not the first "pleasure wheel" in history—similar rides on a smaller scale had been known since the 17th century—Somers's wooden wheel attracted attention. In 1893 organizers of Chicago's Columbian Exposition—eager to build a structure to rival the Eiffel Tower, centerpiece of France's 1889 International Exhibition—sent an engineer to Atlantic City to study it. George Washington Gale Ferris went back to Chicago and built his wheel out of steel. It was an enormous success: During its ten weeks of operation, some 1.5 million fairgoers took a ride on Ferris's wheel. Somers sued for patent infringement, but Ferris died before the matter could be settled. The original Ferris wheel was scrapped in 1906, but the name lives on.

—Kathy B. Maher
Did You Know?

Related Links
New Jersey Beaches
Pack your bucket and shovel and head to the Jersey Shore! Search for events and accommodations—and get maps and directions—at this official State of New Jersey website.

Asbury Park Boardwalk
Rocker Bruce Springsteen's adopted hometown has been through some tough times. Visit this website to share your fond memories of the Asbury Park boardwalk—and to follow its comeback.

Bros. Grim Sideshow
Come one, come all! See the "World's Greatest Collection of Human Oddities, Strange People, Novel Entertainers." Ken Harck's re-creation of the sideshows of the 1920s and 1930s defies description.

Atlantic City Rescue Mission
Find another side of glitzy Atlantic City at the website of the Atlantic City Rescue Mission—an organization that provides shelter for up to 300 homeless people a night—and learn how you can help. 
Lucy the Margate Elephant
Billed as "one of America's strangest architectural structures and national landmarks," this 65-foot-high wooden elephant is a Margate City eye-catcher. Learn more about Lucy at this site.

Cape May
Rich in history—Presidents James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, Ulysses S. Grant, and Benjamin Harrison are among its famous visitors—serene Cape May adds a Victorian touch to the Jersey Shore.


Genovese, Peter. The Jersey Shore Uncovered: A Revealing Season at the Beach. Rutgers University Press, 2003.

Handschuch, Richard, and Sal Marino. The Beach Bum's Guide to the Boardwalks of New Jersey. Beach Bum Press, 2004.

Pike, Helen-Chantal. Greetings from New Jersey: A Postcard Tour of the Garden State. Rutgers University Press, 2001.

Roberts, Russell, and Rich Youmans. Down the Jersey Shore. Rutgers University Press, 2003.

Santelli, Robert. Guide to the Jersey Shore: From Sandy Hook to Cape May. The Globe Pequot Press, 2003.


NGS Resources
Conniff, Richard. "Swamps of New Jersey: The Meadowlands." National Geographic (February 2001), 62-81.

Phillips, Angus. "ZipUSA: Ocean Grove, New Jersey." National Geographic (August 2001), 122.

Peffer, Randall. National Geographic's Driving Guides to America: New York and Pennsylvania and New Jersey. National Geographic Books, 1997.

Dunn, Jerry Camarillo, Jr. "Several Silly Sights to See." National Geographic Traveler (July/August 1989), 116.

Hartz, Jim. "New Jersey: A State of Surprise." National Geographic (November 1981), 568-99.


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