Beachgoers enjoy a warm summer day, July 2020. (Photo: Daniel Nee)
Beachgoers enjoy a warm summer day, July 2020. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Hitting the beach during an era of social distancing has its challenges – namely, striking a balance between allowing families to enjoy a day on the sand, and managing restrictions to maintain a six-foot distance that won’t draw the ire of the press (and, more importantly, the governor).

At the beginning of the 2020 season, each Jersey Shore town with an ocean beach submitted a plan to the state for approval. The plans varied in terms of minor details, but most provided for some way of limiting the number of people on the beach at the same time. In Brick, with neatly-defined parking lots, measuring capacity is not nearly the issue as in Long Branch, which found itself in the spotlight after photos emerged of large crowds piled together like most other summers. It even caught the attention of Gov. Phil Murphy, who proclaimed that beachgoers were “playing with fire.” For Brick residents, frustration has grown due to beaches being closed early in the morning once crowds develop – but there are day-to-day changes, and one of the main drivers is Mother Nature.

“Unfortunately, depending on when high tide is, there is less beach,” said Mayor John Ducey.

Donovan Brown, the longtime beach captain, considers the tidal changes part of the township’s strategy to ensure there is enough space for social distancing. That means more people are allowed on the beach at the time of low tide than at high tide. Ducey suggested residents check the tide table (we created a page here on Brick Shorebeat where you can do just that every day) and predict whether there will be more or less room on the beach at a given hour of the day. The township has also worked through a few early teething issues with its Nixle system, which sends out announcements via text message or e-mail when the beaches reach capacity. The system now is in place to work every day.

Ducey admitted at a council meeting Tuesday night that the limitations have “created ire” among beachgoers, some of whom drive from the mainland and down Route 35, only to find that the beach is closed. But it’s a necessary inconvenience this summer, he said.

“There’s nothing we can do. You have to do the social distancing,” said Ducey. ” Long Branch had some problems last weekend and the governor is thinking of shutting beaches down – we don’t want that to happen.”

“When you see it’s low tide, you know there’s going to be more room,” he continued. “If you really have a desire to be there on a certain day, take a look at the tide charts.”

The mayor also asked beachgoers to be considerate toward staff. Brown, who is tasked every summer with ensuring there are enough lifeguards are on duty, trained properly and at watch, is also fielding the bulk of the complaints about capacity restrictions.

“In addition to all of that, he has to be the social distance police,” said Ducey. “He’s taken the brunt of people yelling and screaming; please be kind, we’re not closing the beach just because you came on. We’re trying not to get them closed down by the governor.”