By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
The drizzle began falling at a steadier rate, the winds were picking up and the temperature barely budged into the 60s.
Yet Scott Megill, his son, Ryan, 15, and daughter, Shannon, 13, weren’t about to let some annoying weather disrupt their surfing plans Friday afternoon at the start of the Memorial Day weekend in Sea Isle City.
“It’s a little cold, but not too bad. The water temperature is somewhere in the high 50s,” Megill said reassuringly.
Ryan and Shannon both wore wetsuits to protect them from the chilly water. The waves were churning on what was a pretty good day for surfing, although the cheerless gray skies certainly didn’t make for an ideal day of sunbathing on the beach.
The iffy weather seemed to symbolize the uncertainties for the summer tourism season caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But now that some of the coronavirus restrictions have been loosened or lifted altogether, Megill and his children were anxious to get out of their West Chester, Pa., home and begin enjoying some holiday time at the shore.
“I think people want to come down to the shore and have some fun,” Megill said. “I’ve seen a lot of people walking around, getting takeout or riding a bike. They just want to do something different.”
Across town, people wearing protective masks were lined up Friday afternoon in front of the Sea Isle City Welcome Center while waiting to buy beach tags.
Some light rain wasn’t about to interrupt their dreams of leisurely, sunny summer days on the beach – especially not at the start of Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kickoff for the vacation season at the shore.
“It’s been on my mind for a while,” Austin Gallagher, of Broomall, Pa., said of his summer vacation.
Gallagher bought three beach tags Friday and planned to return to buy four more for some of his friends. He and his friends have a long-term rental lined up in Sea Isle. They are not changing their summer vacation plans at the shore, despite the coronavirus crisis, Gallagher noted.
“It’s definitely eye-opening in terms of what’s going on. You have to listen to the professionals in the field,” Gallagher said of observing the social distancing guidelines during the pandemic.
“I’m really excited about the summer. I hope things work out,” he added.
Social distancing is in place to buy beach tags in Sea Isle. People must wear masks and remain at least six feet apart while standing in line. No one from the public is allowed inside the Welcome Center during the coronavirus outbreak, so beach tag sales are being conducted through the windows at the front of the building.
Chris Oney, Sea Isle’s tourism representative, said beach tag sales have been strong ever since the city began allowing people to buy them in person at the Welcome Center last week. On at least one day last week, the lines extended down the sidewalk and around the building. Oney believes that the brisk beach tag sales are a sign that things are slowly returning to normal.
“I’m seeing people being cautiously optimistic,” he said. “They’re coming down to their second homes, getting takeout and taking a walk. They’re doing simple things again.”
Although the beaches were virtually deserted during the rain Friday afternoon, the crowds are expected to appear when the weather improves. The forecast calls for a mix of rain and clouds Saturday and Sunday, before improving to partly sunny skies and a high of 65 degrees on Memorial Day.
Teenage friends Molly Suplee, Natalie Wood, both of Medford, N.J., Alexandra Tomlinson, of Doylestown, Pa., and Ryan Schuster, of Barrington, N.J., were waiting for the sun to pop out Friday before heading out on the beach.
When asked what they plan to do for the holiday weekend, Tomlinson replied, “Practice some social distancing fun.”
The four friends stood in front of a large banner attached to a railing along Sea Isle’s oceanfront Promenade that reinforces the country’s social distancing mantra.
The banner includes an arrow depicting the safe distance people should remain apart and the words, “This is what 6 feet looks like.”
“Please keep social distance,” the banner also says. “Do your part – stay 6 ft. apart.”