The beaches in Cape May — at the tip of New Jersey's tide-washed peninsula — are pretty and clean. They're dotted with pastel cabanas and frequented by migrating shore birds. And they're guarded by a diligent lifeguard patrol, one that hasn't had a single drowning in its 106-year history. By all vacation standards, the beaches here are an excellent place to plant a canvas chair or take in a sunset.
But recently, Cape May's beaches have come under fire. Beneath the breaking waves, critics say, is a seafloor that drops off too severely, creating dangerous conditions for surfers and bodysurfers.
I love Cape May so much, I moved here six years ago. But I understand the concern. In the nearly two decades I've been a surfer, I've paddled into many waves, from Desperations break in Fiji (which lives up to its name) to Snapper Rocks in Australia. I've suffered a concussion in the water, and I've wiped out into beds of coral reef and sea urchin. But it's the swell in Cape May that has spooked me out of the ocean and left me driving up the parkway in search of gentler conditions. It's not wave size that's the problem — it's that these waves break into shallow water, sometimes ankle deep, heightening the risk of cervical spine injury.
Addressing the problem has been tricky for the city, a place whose economy depends on not scaring tourists away. But with a new mayor who ran on a platform of beach safety -- things could be changing for Cape May's seascape.