SEASIDE PARK – They came from Trenton, Neptune, Asbury Park, Hammonton, Plainfield. When Seaside Park Mayor Bob Matthies asked why they were in the borough, they said “for a meetup!”
What’s a meetup, the mayor asked?
It’s when you go somewhere and meet up, the young people responded.
Such a meetup was announced on @Beachniknj’s Instagram page (which as of Monday afternoon went private). #BeachNikNJ18 had originally planned to “meet up” at the Seaside Heights Boardwalk, presented by Tahmir & DJ Bake, noon to 7 p.m. Guests paid $8 and were asked to bring speakers, beach balls and no open liquor containers.
But the location was changed last Friday to a private beach at Stockton and Porter avenues in Seaside Park, the latter which draws the border between Seaside Park and Seaside Heights. The reason, according to the June 15 post: “Less Strict Rules.”
Well, what young persons call a meetup requires in Seaside Park what adults call a “use of facilities report.” In other words, one needs a permit to hold such a large event in the borough. It’s not a problem, usually; the mayor says large events have been held in Seaside Park before, on borough property. However, the crowds amassed on private property, an event the mayor says the landowner had no idea about.
Neither did the borough.
“The borough did not know about (it). All of a sudden, participants started to arrive. They just kept coming and coming and coming. Thousands of people arrived in Seaside Park, some in Seaside Heights,” Matthies told The Berkeley Times in a phone interview Monday evening. He did observe large crowds when he walked the beach and boardwalk Saturday evening with a friend. Although other media reported that there were as many as 15,000, he said that number was unlikely. People estimating that number probably didn’t take into account a soccer event in the Heights around the same time, and the usual summer crowds. “They ended up on a private beach, which is between Stockton and Porter avenues, the borderline between Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, and were shoulder-to-shoulder. I didn’t hear any loud music. The owner of that property did not know, said he did not know they were coming.”
A Seaside Park resident, who asked not to be named, said that people came out of nowhere on the Heights and Park border. She hasn’t seen anything like that since Jersey Shore was filming.
“You could smell the pot, see the women dressed inappropriately. It was not a family type of environment,” she said. She could hear music but didn’t witness any fights. Some people sat on her front porch, but when she asked them to move, they did. Things “were in full swing” at 7 p.m. Saturday, but were quieted down by 10 p.m. “They were blasting music, jumping up and down. I saw people walk up to boardwalk and turn around [to leave]. It was a free-for-all. Every rule that’s ever been put in Seaside Heights went out the window.”
Up the road in Seaside Heights that Saturday evening, Ocean County Scanner News member Christopher Guzman did record a fight between multiple men and Seaside Heights Police intervened. According to the video, that particular fight seemed to last less than three minutes.
The Berkeley Times reached out to Detective Steven Korman of the Seaside Heights Police Department and borough administrator Christopher Vaz for comment. They did not respond by press time.
Matthies said he knows some businesses chose to close early Saturday night because of the crowds, but that was a private decision and not mandated by the borough. Seaside Heights did call for backup, which Seaside Park agreed with. The mayor said law enforcement agencies from around the area, including local police departments, the county’s SWAT team, state police and even a couple of homeland security officials, kept an eye on the night’s events.
But during his hours out on the beach and boardwalk Saturday night, Matthies saw two minor skirmishes: two girls pushing each other, screaming foul language at one another, and another, a “standoff” between two people that didn’t erupt further. He was aware of the “melee” that occurred in Seaside Heights, but didn’t know of any other “brawls.” He said in the Park, there were few arrests and no known reports of property damage.
Matthies said by late evening, the crowds dispersed into smaller groups, and any activity in the borough’s residential areas was out-of-towners, unfamiliar with borough streets, trying to remember where exactly they parked.
Matthies said the borough does monitor social media, but that this event wasn’t picked up by them or surrounding municipalities or agencies, who often do share information about potential events or disruptions the borough should be aware of.
“We’re usually told by other agencies that things might happen. You prepare for it. You need to prepare. This situation, we couldn’t prepare, because we didn’t know,” Matthies said.
The meetup was covered by news agencies, including some New York stations. Locals and those who love the Jersey Shore took to social media to voice whether they’d still visit the boardwalk.
“I was there Saturday with my kids. I’ll always go to Seaside, (I) will just have to pick and choose what nights to go at least while my kids are young,” Annmarie Barlow Ricci said.
“I was there Saturday night with my 5-year-old. I’ll still continue to go. One incident will not deter me from going,” Stella Tulli from Clifton, New Jersey, said. “I saw a man run up to a woman and smack her butt and took off running. The girl was like “wtf.” Another man made a sexually suggestive comment to me while I was holding my daughter’s hand. Groups of men were smoking pot on the boards.”
“I will always go to the boardwalk. I will however think twice on a Friday or Saturday night. It just seems to be a little out of hand,” Toms River resident Kimberly Karner said.
Others didn’t seem to write off these shore towns based on Saturday’s events, but have stayed away.
“I am not surprised at this at all. It has become the new normal for Seaside. Even though I am from Toms River, I will go to Point and spend my money and time there,” Andrea Dragwa Lucas said.
But the boardwalk in Seaside Park was quiet Sunday, was quiet Monday, Matthies said. The Ocean County Scanner News team confirmed that quiet in both the Park and Heights the remainder of the weekend. Matthies sees this past weekend as a good thing, and was proud of the police response to keeping things orderly.
“[The public] shouldn’t be fearful of anything. Here you had a situation that had so many people, you could have had a major, major disturbance. And you didn’t. It has a lot to do with our police,” Matthies said. “It was a positive experience.”
The Berkeley Times reached out to the Beachniknj organizers for comment, but there was no response as of press time.