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Seaside Heights Now, Without The Plunge

The Polar Bear Plunge was in Long Branch in February 2013; what Seaside looked like afterward, without it

[This story was originally published in February 2013.]

The people who walk through here are not just browsing anymore. They're not here to necessarily drink their way through the cold air, numbing their nearly bare bodies as they dip themselves into 40-degree water.

Now they're here to see the car wreck, a free tour through a boardwalk museum that looks like it's gone out of business.

They're here with cameras, iPhones and otherwise, walking up to the top of the bulldozer sand piles (they're not dunes anymore) until the police chase them away.

If they can make it from the south side, they can walk all the way up to until the boardwalk goes away, and see the broken police tape dangle in the wind.

This is Seaside Heights now. A roller-coaster ride is in the water. Piers are in pieces, washed away. Plywood is slapped across the same businesses that were open a year ago, serving the throngs that packed this place when the Polar Bear Plunge came and went a year ago.

This time, the Polar Bear Plunge, perhaps the most popular of the off-season Seaside Heights events, was in Long Branch. The Special Olympics fund-raiser couldn't come anywhere near here this time.

This weekend, it was moved to the beach that didn't get rocked anywhere near the way Seaside Heights did. Now the people come to Seaside Heights not to drink, or carouse. They come here to watch, to photograph, to browse, and to lament about a Hurricane Sandy tore through here, ripping out piece after piece as the waters rushed up, and made the Jersey Shore attraction buckle under.

Now the people come here to photograph, video and capture what it looks like now, perhaps hoping that it will be better later. Now they can capture it on their iPhone, hoping they can come back a year from now, and show how much Seaside Heights has recovered from where it was.

Somehow, they'll have to tolerate being here, and somehow put the memories of last year, the crowds that bunched up on the beaches, in perspective.

A year ago, the bare-chested locals and tourists were learning against the rail beams, chanting like it was a football game, as the other bare-chested locals and tourists screamed their way into the ocean. After just a few minutes, just as many were running out, it looked like, as were running in.

Cars were parked all the way back to the Route 37 bridges that were the escape route for those few who hate seeing this happen every year. They jammed up the parking lot in 7-Eleven, even though there's a sign that non-customers will be towed.

They parked there anyway, and nobody seemed to care. Say what you want about Seadide Heights and Seaside Park; you won't find a more welcoming place on Earth, whether you're from here or not.

The bars were packed, but they nearly always are, anyway, whether there's a Polar Bear Plunge or a five-mile run or any other off-season event the Borough Council has to keep people here year-round.

Even when there's been a run there, going back to the 1990s and before, the runners seem to always make a detour into EJs or some other place, getting a beer before they finish in the back of the pack. The minute you drive or run into Seaside Heights, you just stop taking yourself too seriously.

Now EJs is like so many pther places around here, with tape pasted acrossed the windows or doors. People still run here, but very few of them still do, sticking mainly to the streets that still have sand covering them half-way.

That same place where the bare-chested people were cheering, screaming, like they were at a Giants game, leaning against the already-fragile railings that were ready to snap? The railings, the boardwalk, even the dunes are gone there now. An occasional truck passes by, as well as a police car, making sure nobody gets anywhere close.

My lasting memory is going to the Polar Bear Plunge a year ago, in 2012, and being in that same exact place, and thinking about those railings that seem to bend like rubber.

I remember seeing the frown on my 11-year-old son's place as he worried, incessantly, that I'd die in those waters that I myself - bare-chested and all - dipped into.

He thought everybody was nuts. He couldn't imagine, this son with the high-IQ and straight As and the advanced classes and everything, why anybody would do anything that doesn't make sense. People go swimming in the summer for fun, he thinks; not to get frostbite in the thick, cold winter air.

Now, a year later, he looks at me, after all that he and I went through this past year and last, and says:

"Dad, can we do the Polar Bear Plunge this year?"

He says this, even after he's seen the many pictures of that same ravaged coastline, some of which he's seen with his own eyes.

That's the hope we need.

wookfish February 24, 2013 at 04:16 PM
and the list of events leaving SSH will grow and grow
Dave VanDeventer February 24, 2013 at 04:38 PM
and will come back better then ever when it is safe!
KC February 24, 2013 at 11:32 PM
I dunno .... I think a comeback will be a decade in the making. It will come back but of course differently and more corporately is my guess. Went for my first ride on Rte 35 in Mantaloking today enroute to patronize a restaurant. So sad. Homes look like you were going to see the Wicked Witch of the East's striped sox and shoes. I still can't absorb it nearly four months after the fact; and I know I am seeing the sanitized version - after a lot of effort and clean-up. So sad. Stay safe, stay strong all.
Chris February 25, 2013 at 12:36 AM
Don't worry folks... They will build the boardwalk better then ever... Wheels, Chances and Bars....But homeowners will not be able to build or move back or the INSURANCE.
Cindy Stucker February 25, 2013 at 01:47 AM
I haven't been back to my hometown area to see the damage but I can tell you that the place I live now (northeastern PA), we are still having recovery issues from Susquehanna River flooding that happened in Sept. of 2011. Full recovery takes a long time (remember Katrina ?), but eventually will happen. Keep the faith !
billy jones February 25, 2013 at 09:49 AM
I can't wait until they put seaside back together. So glad construction has began on boardwalk. Great job.
impeach1 February 25, 2013 at 01:42 PM
now maybe we can get the gestapo seaside park police to calm down. I mean 3 sp police and a state trooper within 5 blocks is a little much. I guess they are trying to make up for the lost revenue.
William Freer February 25, 2013 at 02:17 PM
Long Branch was such a cluster man, I think we could have found a way to have completed the Polar Bear Plunge in Seaside, Safely of course.and it would have been a good start for everyone to get back on track towards summer. There were about 4,000 plungers, along with their compatriots. thats alot of revenue that Seaside missed out on and Long branch clearly does not need by the appearance of the beach, businesses and boardwalk.
wookfish February 25, 2013 at 03:34 PM
never to return..taken over by section 8's...
CPOTom February 26, 2013 at 12:52 AM
Hope for the best?
sodd February 26, 2013 at 01:03 AM
Mabey MTV won't want to trash seaside some more
angel February 26, 2013 at 12:51 PM
Place was due for a good flushing. Perhaps they attract a better clientele.
Tom Cular February 26, 2013 at 03:07 PM
I must agree, Seaside only got a partial flush,it's still an outhouse. It'll take a lot to make it a family resort spot.
Ortley Joe June 27, 2013 at 08:24 AM
no new news so just re post the old
. June 27, 2013 at 09:49 AM
Ridiculous. I was just thinking since when is the Polar Bear Plunge in June. I should have realized it's just recycled Patch news!

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