Nick and Barb Niguidula try to walk every day on Ocean City's Boardwalk, for the exercise.

But these days, they have another reason to get out on their local boards as often as possible - for the entertainment.

That's the entertainment of watching a geyser of sandy water erupt onto the beach through a 2-mile-long pipeline, and then seeing a herd of bulldozers and other heavy machines push the sand around to shape it into a brand-new beach, bolstered by a Boardwalk-protecting dune. More machines carry the 30-foot-long sections of rust-colored pipe that get added as the work moves south on the beach, or have other jobs to support the sand-pumping project.

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"I'm just fascinated by what they're doing," Nick said the other night, watching the whole process roll on and talking about some of the intricacies he finds so interesting. And this is a guy who has dealt with some complex projects in his own professional life - he's a retired pediatric surgeon.

"I'm totally enjoying the civil engineering end of it," adds his wife, a retired nurse - the two met when they worked together at a Philadelphia hospital.

And the Niguidulas are hardly alone in treating all that sand-moving as a spectator sport. The beach-building ballet seems to draw a crowd every day the show plays in Ocean City - just as it does in every town that has a sand-spewing project to bring its beaches back, at whatever time of year the work happens.

"Everyone is in awe of it," says Jim Thomas, who got to see the project a few days last week in front of his Boardwalk business, the Hollywood Arcade, near 8th Street. "Infatuated, I guess would be the word."

Sometimes, Thomas watched from just inside his front door, but other times, he walked over to join the crowd that came and went from the railing on the other side of the boards. At different points, that crowd ranged from a few people standing and pointing and talking to a few dozen, or maybe more.

The project is so popular with spectators - and Ocean City officials are such believers in the value of promoting whatever can draw a crowd there - that the town even offers a "Seashore Sand Supervisor's Certificate" to people who stop to watch the work a while.

That tradition goes back more than 30 years - the town's public relations guru, Mark Soifer, has a certificate in his City Hall office dated 1982. But the documents have gotten more elaborate over the years, and now they include a full-color picture of the dredge pumping all that sand, plus the official Ocean City logo.

Soifer says the certificates are available from the Ocean City Music Pier's box office and information center, off the Boardwalk between 8th and 9th streets. But since that is now a few blocks north of the center of the action, the certificates are also available at Henry's Jewelers at 1236 Boardwalk and Shriver's at 9th and the Boardwalk.

"It's a nice memento and it makes people think about Ocean City," Soifer said, adding that he got the idea from watching people watching giant buildings under construction in bigger cities.

"When it started here, there was really huge interest in it, and it reminded me of those sidewalk superintendents," Soifer said, as the skyscraper spectators are often called. "I thought we could probably do the same, because it's a construction thing too."

He said the only cost of the certificates is the copying and the heavy paper itself, and he figured that as of the other day, the town had given away 400 or so on this round of the periodic beach-rebuilding project. But Soifer has also ordered another batch of 500, because he expected to give away a bunch Friday to the crowd attracted to Ocean City's traditional ocean-opening ceremony and its related festivities.

"And we'll probably give away a lot over the weekend," Soifer said.

The certificates say the sand-supervisor title is available to anyone who "has spent at least five minutes watching" the beach-building happen, so all four members of the Hanson family - parents Gregg Sr. and Colleen and kids Gregg Jr., 10, and Grace, 7 - easily qualified in just one stop the other night. But the Hansons, who split their year between Ocean City and Huntingdon Valley, Pa., have watched for far more than a few minutes of this project.

"It's an educational experience I get to share with my kids," said Gregg Sr., who also enjoys watching other parents discussing the details with their families. "We watch dolphins from this Boardwalk, and now we're watching from the Boardwalk as they put the beach back."

And Colleen, who was taking pictures and video of the process the other night, adds that she doesn't just check it out when she's riding her bike on the boards.

"I've been watching it online too," she said.

Some of the beach-project workers aren't actually stationed on the beach. They're up on the Boardwalk too, making sure that none of the walkers or spectators try to go into the work zone - it's off limits because of the dangers of all those big machines running around, and often beep-beep-beeping their way backwards across the beach.

And while those security crews referred all official questions from a reporter/spectator to the public-affairs office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - the lead agency on the project - the workers casually agreed that they run into a lot of people who are very curious about what's happening on that beach.

One frequently asked question concerns the "crab," an amphibious, GPS-equipped survey tool mounted on a tall tripod. A worker runs it through the shallow surf periodically to precisely measure the height of the new beach, and make sure it fits the project's specifications.

"That's my favorite thing," said Barb Niguidula, the almost-every-day spectator, pointing up at the crab. "It looks like a 'Star Wars' structure."

But one more thing she enjoys is seeing another group of very interested spectators - ones with wings.

"We like watching the seagulls waiting for their dinner" to come through the pipe, she said, in the form of a free fish or two.

And speaking of free, this retired nurse liked the sound of the complimentary certificate from Ocean City officially awarding her the title of sand supervisor. She'd like to get one - and she and her husband have certainly earned one, or two. But anyone who's interested should ask for it soon: The project, which started in February, is now just a few blocks from this year's stopping point, at 14th Street.

Still, if you miss out in Ocean City, you'll have other chances to watch a beach get rebuilt this year. Projects are also scheduled to start soon in Atlantic City, Ventnor and parts of Long Beach Island.

Contact Martin DeAngelis:


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