19 Tips For a Great (And Safe!) Day at the Beach

Want to make the most of your trip to the Jersey Shore? Check out these helpful ideas from our beach-loving staff.

Build An Ice Cream Cone

Illustration by Annelise Capossela

It seems so simple. Just order your favorite flavors and enjoy. Not so fast! Food scientists say there’s a right way and a wrong way to build an ice cream cone. It’s all about each scoop’s freezing-point depression and overrun levels.

The bottom scoop should have the lowest overrun level. That means a denser ice cream with less air. Vanilla fits the bill, but your choice need not be mundane. Choose a decadent version of vanilla with swirls of caramel toffee crunch or dots of M&Ms.

Chocolate-based flavors have a sturdiness to their chemical makeup, but the dark color absorbs more light and heat than vanilla, so it melts faster. Stack dark chocolate or Rocky Road in the middle of your cone.

For the top scoop, perfect choices include alcohol-infused, sugar-rich flavors like rum raisin, bananas Foster and Irish coffee. Alcohol depresses the freezing point, resulting in softer ice cream. Similarly, sugar blocks ice crystals from forming. Again, the ice cream is softer, but it  melts faster. So get your licks in quickly and move onto that middle scoop.—Lauren Yobs

Escape a Riptide

When the riptide rolls in, a day at the beach can turn deadly. Before you hit the waves, heed all lifeguard warnings (a red flag means high surf and/or strong currents). If caught in a riptide, try not to panic. If possible, raise one arm as a distress signal. Do not attempt to swim back to the shore or against the tide; you’ll waste valuable energy. Instead, identify the direction of the current and swim with it, parallel to the shore. Once you’re out of the tide, swim diagonally back to shallow water. As an alternative, oceanography professor Jamie MacMahan recommends simply treading water until you are spun out of the tide. That advice has stirred controversy among other riptide experts. —Maryrose Mullen

 

Share A Boat

Illustration by Annelise Capossela

While plenty of places at the Shore rent skiffs, pontoons and WaveRunners, there’s another option for seafaring visitors: boat sharing, an industry inspired by DIY hosting and sharing sites like Airbnb. Sources to check out include sailo.com; boatbound.com; getmyboat.com; and boatsetter.com. All have filters for boat type, amenities on board and information on captains for hire.—Joanna Buffum

Avoid Greenheads

These pesky critters can ruin a day at the beach. Vicious predators, they lie dormant underground until the hot summer months. That’s when they emerge to nibble human flesh. Yuck! One solution: Keep active. They have trouble landing on a moving target. Even a light breeze will keep them at bay. Strong bug repellent can help; some swear by Skin So Soft Bug Guard. Avid beachgoers apply alternative deterrents such as mouthwash, gin (straight up or mixed with bug repellent) or garlic supplements.

Fun fact: Lifeguards are safe on their stands; greenheads never fly higher than about three feet off the ground.—Lauren Payne

Master Skee-Ball

Ahmad Bazbaz, 7, of Pompton Lakes takes his best shot at skeeball.

Photo by Jim Connolly

Becoming a Skee-Ball master requires a steady hand and a firm grip. The roll should be powerful, but not forceful. Also, don’t get greedy. Aiming for the high-point holes near the top of the machine can be a recipe for failure. “Don’t go for too many high points,” advises Jack Johnson of Bergen County. The trick, he adds, is consistency. But for some, no risk means no reward. Ahmad Bazbaz, 7, of Pompton Lakes, right, always aims for the small, 100-point holes in the top corners of the machine.  “I kept on getting it so close!” he said as he rolled last summer at Jenkinson’s South Arcade in Point Pleasant Beach. “You have to throw it really hard.”–MM

Travel Light

The last thing you want to do on a beach day is lug a lot of stuff. Here are some tips on paring down:

  • Pack snacks in collapsible bags that are easy to carry out. Slice fruit and peel oranges in advance to reduce waste.
  • Sunscreen comes in dozens of varieties; you need just one—a high-SPF, active-protection brand that is oil free for face and body.
  • Ditch the bulky wallet. A change purse with driver’s license and/or ID and a few essential cards will do.
  • Edit reading materials down to one book and one magazine. Better yet, bring along your e-reader.
  • Beach towels are bulky. A single, queen-sized bedsheet gives you more room to spread out on the sand. Plus it dries faster, and sand won’t cling to it.—LY

Catch A Blue-Claw Crab

Illustration by Annelise Capossela

All you need to do is head to the bay shore with a net, a length of string, a hunk of raw chicken and a little patience. The crabs often cling to a shallow bulkhead or dock. Simply drop a line with bait tied on the end; the crab wraps its claws around the meat. (Some crabbers swear by hot dogs, others by chicken necks.) Once a crab has latched onto your line, lift it slowly and sweep it into your net. Voila, dinner.—LP

Conquer Seasickness

Attack seasickness before it attacks you. Over-the-counter pills like Dramamine and Bonine can keep misery at bay if taken before you set sail (even the previous night). If the malady strikes mid-cruise, experts suggest staring at the horizon to trick your brain. You should also stay in the center of the boat, where the rocking is less intense. Quaff a cola or a ginger ale—not alcohol—and apply pressure to the insides of your wrists. If you still feel nauseous, let it go. You won’t be the first, and you’ll likely feel better almost immediately.—LP

Fend Off A Shark

Illustration by Annelise Capossela

Although there have been only 15 recorded shark attacks in New Jersey since 1916, it is not uncommon for such large species as tiger sharks, bull sharks and great whites to swim near the surf zone. George Burgess, curator of the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida, says the surest way to fend off attack is to avoid it in the first place. That means staying out of the water when big fish are jumping or lots of birds are diving in a particular spot. That indicates an abundance of fish, and the likelihood of predators. Also avoid inlets with an abundance of fish species and stay out of the water between dusk and dawn, when sharks are most active. Don’t wear jewelry; any reflection can approximate the glint of light off fish scales. And stick together in groups; predators of all kinds tend to hunt isolated individuals.

If these precautions are not effective and it looks like a shark is circling and might attack, Burgess says to be aggressive. “If you lay down and play dead,” he says, “you’re going to be dead.” Instead, try to look as large as possible. Face the shark, displaying the entire breadth of your body and possibly swim toward it if it swims at you.

If a shark gets close, hit it on the nose, which is sensitive; try to use a hard object like a rock or camera and not your hand. If the shark veers away, it’s your chance to escape. If it returns, hit the nose again—but with each punch, the shark is calculating its opponent’s strength.

If, alas, the shark has you in a bite, claw at the eyes and the five sensitive gill openings behind the eyes. “Fight like hell,” says Burgess. “You don’t want to be passive. You want to demonstrate to that shark that you’re a worthy, or more than worthy, opponent.”—Breanne McCarthy

Protect Your Skin

You’d like to come home with a tan, but be smart about it. “Avoid sun as much as possible during peak hours, between 10 am and 4 pm,” says Dr. Cheryl Fialkoff, a dermatologist and New Jersey Monthly Top Doctor from Liberty Corner. But if sunbathe you must, use a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher, broad spectrum and water-resistant. Apply a half hour before going outside, and reapply every two hours, immediately after getting out of the water and when engaging in activity with heavy perspiration, Fialkoff says. When using spray sunscreen, rub it in to ensure even coverage. Sun-protective hats and clothing and beach umbrellas are essential.—Jacqueline Klecak

Win at Mini-Golf

Photo by Jauhien Sasnou

A round of miniature golf is a carefree way to fritter away a chunk of time at the Shore. At Blackbeard’s Cave in Bayville, bridges and caves ratchet up the intensity for the 10-and-over set; Castaway Cove in Point Pleasant Beach offers two courses, one with caves and waterfalls, the other with aerial views. Wildwood’s Island Miniature Golf doesn’t have much in the way of special effects. Still,  there are holes where “everybody loses their ball,” says owner Stephanie Bennett. Sofia and Oliver Corona, 5-year-old twins from Brooklyn, felt plenty challenged by the 19 holes they navigated with the help of their parents, Amy and Louis. In the end, Sofia, wearing a “We all dream of ice cream” T-shirt, felt she had mastered her miniature putter. “Hit the ball soft a lot of times and it will go in,” she said. Her brother had a secret technique. “I know how to win,” he said, “but I’m not going to tell you.”
—Tammy La Gorce

Play Beach Volleyball

Illustration by Annelise Capossela

New Jersey’s beach-volleyball scene is more competitive than it looks, with leagues and teams of various skill levels commandeering many of the Shore’s permanent nets. Still, day-trippers of all ages can usually find a pickup game at most beaches. Ava Daley, a 15-year-old from Madison, discovered as much when she joined three fellow teens last July for a casual match on the beach in Ocean City. “None of us really knew how to play, like how you do the scoring and whatever,” said Daley post-game. Her tips for the novice: “Wear sunglasses so you can see where the ball is going.” Also, protect your feet. “The sand gets really hot, so if you dig your feet down into the sand a little, it’s cooler.” Other essentials: sunscreen (reapplied frequently), sweatbands, plenty of liquid refreshment and a bathing suit you can trust not to fall off.—TLG

Signal A Lifeguard

Splashing, yelling and waving your arms may seem like the natural response to an ocean emergency. The truth is, “waving your hands in the air is not going to happen if you’re in distress,” says Steve Stocks, chief of the Wildwood Beach Patrol. Luckily, the guards are trained to recognize the signs of a struggling swimmer. These include difficulty getting arms or head out of the water and hair caught in the eyes, says Stocks. “When you go in the water, take the time to go directly in front of the lifeguards,” suggests Stocks. “If you find yourself in trouble, the worst thing you can do is panic. This leads to exhaustion, and more often than not, exhaustion leads to distress and drowning.” Try to float on your back, fill your cheeks with air, breathe and remain calm. “The lifeguards recognize that you’re in need of help and will get to you within a minute or so,” Stocks says. Use the lifeguards as a resource; ask them about dangerous drop-offs and rip currents, which account for 80 percent of rescues at Wildwood. But, Stocks adds, “minimize that interaction so they can get back to scanning the water.”—JK

Eat a Lobster

Illustration by Annelise Capossela

Intimidated by all the cracking, poking and picking required to eat a whole lobster? Trust us: It’s easy. Just follow these steps:

1. Tie on the bib and cover your lap with napkins.
2. Over the discard bowl, grab the lobster’s body in one hand and tail in the other. Snap upward, breaking the lobster in two. Dump any water from the shells into the bowl.
3. Pinch the flared tip of the tail and snap upward, creating a narrow opening. Insert your fork into the hole and push the tail meat through the wide end of the shell. Dip in melted butter. Enjoy.
4. Twist the claws off the body. Crack off the “thumb” of each claw and poke out the meat.
5. Using a nutcracker, crack the large part of each claw at the widest point. Break the shells in half and extract the claw meat with your fingers.
6. Twist and detach the four knuckle segments (careful, the edges are jagged). Break open each with the nutcracker. More meat!
7. Snap off the legs and suck out strands of meat.
8. Feeling adventurous? Try the green paste inside the body cavity, called the tomalley, which is the salty liver. Spread it on bread or eat plain. Female lobsters can have orange eggs—also edible.

Note that lobsters with hard shells are difficult to crack and densely packed with firm meat. Soft-shell lobsters have recently shed their hard shells for the tender, new shell growing underneath. You can break these open with your hands, but they are messier and filled with more water. Some say the extra water marinates and tenderizes the meat. Since soft shells are not as dense, the cost is less per pound.—JB

Treat A Jellyfish Sting

To pee or not to pee? That’s the age-old question for anyone stung by a jellyfish.

Dave Bologna, director of marine biology and coastal science at Montclair State University, says the notion that peeing on a jellyfish sting helps to reduce pain is mostly a myth popularized by a 1997 episode of Friends. While components of urea, found in urine, could potentially help stabilize the pain, urine has neither a high enough concentration, or the right configuration to help. In reality, Bologna says, the best thing to do is to bring a spray bottle of white vinegar to the beach when jellyfish are known to be present.

“White vinegar, when it encounters the stinging cells of jellyfish, sort of immobilizes them,” he says. After spraying the sting with vinegar, it’s important to wash the affected area gently with water. Bologna says stick to whatever water you were in. Avoid bottled freshwater, which will alter the stinging cells and can cause them to swell and explode. Finally, use a towel or credit card to scrape away any remaining cells and stingers.

To treat the pain, Bologna suggests a hot compress, such as a hand warmer or towel dipped in hot water. Ibuprofen or other analgesics can help reduce the pain. Bologna, who has been stung countless times, says the pain should begin to subside after about half an hour. If the pain doesn’t abate, or if it starts to spread, seek medical attention. While many of the dozens of different jellyfish native to New Jersey are not life-threatening, other jellies—including clinging or box jellyfish—can cause severe to life-threatening reactions.—BM

Spend a Rainy Day

Ryan Wong of Somerset befriends a horseshoe crab at Jenkinson’s Aquarium with the help of staffer Alex Golding of Ringoes. Photo by Jim Connolly

A damp day down the Shore doesn’t have to be a downer. Here’s a backup plan when the weather won’t cooperate:

Watch For Wildlife

Illustration by Annelise Capossela

You meet all types down the Shore, and that includes Jersey’s vast array of unique non-human species. Many are easy to spot if you know where to look.

Two of the largest species found at the Shore, humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins, can be seen with the naked eye along the shoreline throughout the summer (but binoculars help). They can also be viewed up close and personal on whale- and dolphin-watching tours offered at some South Jersey beaches.

Birds are a major attraction at the Shore and along the Delaware Bay. In spring and early summer, endangered species like the rufa red knot, piping plovers and others arrive by the tens of thousands to refuel along their migration routes or to nest. These species converge along the bay from Gandy’s Beach to Reeds and Sunray beaches. To spot native birds, visit the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor. You can watch the institute’s pair of nesting osprey from the observation deck, or walk the salt-marsh trail to glimpse migratory birds, fiddler crabs, laughing gulls and more.

Northern diamondback terrapins, a protected native turtle, frequent the brackish waters of South Jersey and are often spotted crossing Seven Bridges Road and Great Bay Boulevard in Little Egg Harbor Township.

Harbor seals, most commonly seen in cooler months, also show up in summer at Sandy Hook, Barnegat Light and in the Great Bay area in Ocean and Atlantic counties.—BM

Tour A Fishing Dock

Ah, the sweet smell of fresh-caught fish. More than 5 million pounds of it are unloaded each year at Viking Village Fishing Dock in Barnegat Light. Beginning in July, dock tours are given every Friday at 10 am. Visitors can watch commercial vessels return after a week at sea and unload their bounty, H&G—headed and gutted. The hour-long tour also features a local chef demonstrating preparation techniques. Depending on your timing, you might see the boats off-loading swordfish, yellowfin tuna, monkfish, sea bass or scallops.—LP

Save A Seal

Illustration by Annelise Capossela

Each year, hundreds of sea critters are stranded along the Shore, typically from exhaustion, illness or wounds. That’s when the Marine Mammal Stranding Center leaps into action. MMSC is the sole organization responsible for aiding New Jersey’s stranded sea mammals and turtles. Located in Brigantine, MMSC has helped rescue and release 4,600 creatures, from seals to sea turtles, since Bob Schoelkopf founded the nonprofit in 1978. It covers 1,800 miles of beachfront and back bays in the Garden State.

What to do if you spot a stranded seal? Schoelkopf says don’t wait. Call the MMSC’s 24-hour emergency hotline at 609-266-0538 or the local police department as soon as possible. Do not approach the animal. Seals are federally protected; touching or removing them from the beach is seen as harassment under federal law. What’s more, warns Schoelkopf, seals have a “serious bite.” Instead, from a  safe distance, take a photo of the creature and send it to MMSC. This helps them determine how to react to the situation—and seals your status as a hero to our flippered friends.—BM

Click here to leave a comment
Read more Jersey Shore articles.

By submitting comments you grant permission for all or part of those comments to appear in the print edition of New Jersey Monthly.