Generations of shore visitors may change, but one thing remains the same: The beach is a great place to play games.
Swinging paddles, rolling bocce balls, throwing bean bags or shells all give families a reason to spend time together — and stay away from their cell phones.
For many residents, the games they play with their kids are the same ones they played when they were growing up in South Jersey.
For Fern Varnick, of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, it was important for her son Victor, 13, to experience life on the beach. Varnick is now a stay-at-home mom but worked in hospitality management at Trump Marina, now the Golden Nugget Atlantic City, for 10 years. Her ties to the area led her to buy a condo in Ventnor’s North Beach.
“We spend our summers here as I did as a child. I wanted to share that with my son,” Varnick said.
She said she wanted to create a place for fun that family and friends would gravitate to, and a big part of that is having an arsenal of beach games at the ready.
“I grew up in Ventnor in the summers with grandparents and family and I wanted to continue that and for everyone to congregate at my house,” she said.
The favorites? Kan Jam, Kadima and Djubi.
“Kan Jam, it looks like a black trash can with a slot in it and it has a Frisbee,” Varnick said. “You’re trying to get the Frisbee into the can. Four people play at a time.”
As a parent, Varnick says she also has an ulterior motive.
“He can make friends that way. Being an only child, it’s sort of nice for him if he has a game for kids to walk up to him. They’re like ‘can I play?’ or vice versa and it’s been successful. Now we have so many different games,” she said.
Djubi is a newer game that Varnick says she hasn’t seen much on the beach.
“The Djubi, we love that,” Varnick said. “Victor can even play that one by himself. Right away when we’re playing everyone’s like, ‘where’d you get that?’“
The handheld Djubi looks like a cross between a slingshot with a lacrosse stick. You launch a ball into the air with the slingshot and catch it in the net.
Varnick has made a yearly tradition of hitting up Amazon.com to find new beach games for the season.
“Victor is extremely active. He was never really into digging in the sand. That old pastime wasn’t enough. He’s very much into sports: basketball, tennis. So every year I look up beach games,” she said. “I try to get different games so that we have something to do and to play with other kids.”
Lee Fader, of Scarsdale, New York, also purchased a summer home in Ventnor to recreate the summer memories he made growing up in Margate, where he spent summers lifeguarding.
“All we did was go to the beach and play Frisbee or Kadima or ride the waves,” Fader said of his childhood. “My kids didn’t grow up on the beach like me, but we love bringing them down there and my son loves Kadima.”
Now Ethan, 11, and Amelia, 9, get to spend summers the same way their dad did.
“We come down every weekend. Now it’s kind of fun for me to be able to play with my kids,” Fader said. One of their favorite games is Kadima. You probably know it as paddle ball.
“There’s this ball that we have that we skip on the water right at the shoreline. For the most part it’s Kadima because my son loves racket sports and you can play it right at the water so you stay cool and you’re not in anyone’s way. The game has been around for a long time,” he said.
“You don’t want to hit someone with a Frisbee. That would hurt. The Kadima ball is really soft. It’s just a great, fun game. We’ve always had a set in the family. They last a long time.”
Both families agree that beach games help fight the strong pull of the Internet and social media for their preteens.
“I try to engage them in sports on the beach because if I didn’t they’d be playing with their phones and on the iPad. So this is a way for my son, who is definitely a “techy” kind of kid who’d be more than happy to stay inside and play video games,” Fader said. “I’m trying to get them both to love the beach the way I love the beach. And have fun on the beach besides just swimming.”
Varnick said she got lucky that her son is naturally interested in sports.
“At home it’s the iPad, the phone and the TV. In the summer especially I want him to be outside and I want him to breathe the salt air and be in the water and connect with family.”
Technology is handy for one thing, however.
“He’ll meet kids and they’ll get each other’s cell phone numbers. So they’re texting but they’re texting to meet on the beach to play,” Varnick said. “This is our area. We love it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. This is the place we want to be.”