By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
They came to buy beach tags. Some wore shorts. Others went hunting for seashells. Still others tippy toed into the ocean.
Are these activities usually associated with January? Hardly. But it was hardly a typical winter day.
Spring-like temperatures flirting with the 60s proved to be a powerful draw Saturday for people eager to get away for a tranquil weekend at the shore in Sea Isle City.
“It’s a taste of Florida, almost,” said Kathy Freund, who, along with her husband, Jeff, drove down from their home in Glassboro to buy some beach tags at the Sea Isle City Welcome Center.
Chris Donohue, a Welcome Center employee, apologetically explained to the Freunds that beach tags won’t be available until Jan. 15. At that time, the city will begin selling its commemorative Polar Bear Plunge beach tags inspired by Sea Isle’s madcap dip in the chilly ocean – an event that traditionally attracts tens of thousands of visitors to town each February.
“How long does it take for them to sell out?” Kathy Freund asked of the Polar Bear Plunge beach tags.
“Not long,” Donohue responded. “They’ll all be gone by the time the plunge comes. There are only 1,500 of them.”
By 1 p.m. Saturday, Donohue had already spoken to more than 50 people who stopped in at the Welcome Center to try to buy the coveted Polar Bear Plunge beach tags, which sell out each year.
Although the Freunds and others were not able to pick up their beach tags Saturday, all was not lost. The beaches, the ocean and Sea Isle’s Promenade beckoned everyone on a day that mimicked April.
“We’re here for the nice weather,” said Kathy Freund, who owns a vacation home in South Seaville with her husband.
Wide-open beaches greeted visitors, some of whom walked barefoot in the powdery sand and oh-so-carefully waded into the brisk ocean.
Jody and Jack Hammond, of Sea Isle, and their friends, Dawn and Mark Govannicci, of Springfield, Pa., stood on a jetty while hunting for conch shells. Dawn noted that they were adding to their seashell collections.
“It is absolutely amazing to be able to walk on the beach in the middle of January. We’re finding some amazing conch shells,” Dawn said.
Up on the Promenade, Tom Ackerman, his wife, Katie, and brother-in-law David Young were enjoying a stroll with their golden retriever, Irvin.
Lured by the temperate weather, the Ackermans and Young made the four-hour drive down to the shore Friday night from their home in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. They have a vacation home in Cape May Court House.
Amazingly, they said the weather in Poughkeepsie was slightly warmer than in Sea Isle. Tom Ackerman and Young were both wearing shorts. They didn’t seem to be the least bit cold.
“I saw the forecast. I saw that the weather would be in the 50s and I said to myself, ‘Let’s try this,’” Ackerman explained of his decision to put on a pair of shorts.
Coats, jackets, sweatshirts and scarves were more like it for a group of longtime friends from Camden and Gloucester counties, Lisa Lanciano, Carrie Martorano, Marie Conto, Tina Decker and Beth Walls.
They drove down to Sea Isle for the day expecting to bask in warm weather at the shore, but found overcast skies instead.
Still, the temperature was far above the norm for the second week of January, allowing them to do things usually associated with spring or summer.
“I want to go to the beach and go to the ocean,” Lanciano exclaimed.
“We’re going to walk on the beach and stick our toes in the water,” Decker added.
Not bad for January. The forecast calls for mild weather again on Sunday.