In New Jersey, life’s a (more active) beach

It looked like a North Carolina beach except for one thing: The people were moving.

We just got back from five days at Brigantine Beach, which sits just north of Atlantic City, N.J., though the gulf between the two couldn’t be greater. Atlantic City is all about glitz and gambling, Brigantine Beach is about kicking back — and kicking in.

Even before we got to the beach I could tell this place was different. One morning having a bagel and coffee ($1.89!) outside Aversa’s Italian Bakery on the town’s main drag, I noticed that maybe one in five patrons arrived by car. The rest either walked or rode their bikes. Like many beach towns, the Brigantine Beach’s streets are wide, easily accommodating cyclists. The larger roads all have bike lanes. And they were all well-used, from people down for the week on beach cruisers to townies (the year-round population is 12,600) running errands on 30-year-old 10-speeds. I’d never seen so many people on bikes. Most surprising: A goodly number were men of retirement age who in other beach settings would be tooling around in a Lincoln Town Car.

Lacrosse is big in the Northeast, on grass or on sand.

The bakery prepared me for the beach. The beach here is wide, about twice the width of Wrightsville, Emerald Isle, or most other beaches along the North Carolina coast. Good thing, because these folks — who judging from their license plates come from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, in that order — make use of it. Sure, like us, they wheel in 40-gallon coolers filled with beverages and sandwiches. But their beach wagons, made of PVC pipe and bulbous, oversized wheels, also bore all forms of recreation. Horseshoes and bocce balls were big. Families decked out in Phillies T-shirts and hats brought mitts and balls and played catch. Frisbees and assorted other flying discs whizzed over unsuspecting sunbathers, who were more apt to get thumped by an errant paddle ball. Stunt kites kept several sun-and-air worshipers occupied. There wereinfo

Beach soccer is played on a (mercifully) smaller field.

rmal family volleyball games, there were more formal (though not

necessarily more competitive) contests on courts

established for the local beach volleyball club. There was the Atlantic City Beach Soccer Tournament, a five-on-five competition that pitted a melting pot of teams against one another.

And that was just on land. Once you hit the surf, there were boogie boards, surf kayaks, surf boards, windsurfers and kite boarders. And, of course, the frolicking you encounter trying not to notice the water is 73 degrees. (At Wrightsville Beach, the temperature was a bath-watery 85.)

A quick nap between contests.

In New Jersey, 23.3 percent of adults are obese; in North Carolina, the figure is 29.3 percent. Sure, the New Jerseyans like their hoagies and pork rolls. But as this beach scene suggested, they’re also more likely to get up afterward (30 minutes afterward, presumably, to accommodate proper digestion) and work off their indulgences with a spirited game of volleyball, an endless contest of horseshoes or catch with the kids.

We go to the beach to shed stress. Lying in the sun and having a picnic is certainly part of that process. But as our friends from the Garden State demonstrate, it’s only part of the process.

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