"Somebody told me you could come to Ventnor now for nothing," said Carole Schmitt, of Atlantic City, when Ventnor beach badge checkers asked her and her friends to show their badges.
"I don't know about that," checker Charlie Engelke said.
Schmitt and her friend looked surprised. They really did.
But they had already set up, and they weren't about to leave now. So Schmitt paid $30 for three weekly badges, and the checkers were on their way.
The exchange was part of the daily routine for beach badge checkers, whose work helps shore towns collect millions of dollars in beach badge revenue each summer. This summer, though, towns are seeing widely varying results when it comes to beach badge sales.
In Ventnor, checkers gathered at the Beach Patrol headquarters on Surrey Avenue one weekday morning to do a sweep of the beach. Other cities have checkers stationed at various entry points, but Ventnor has a simple reason for doing things differently.
"There are too many entrances to the beach in Ventnor," Beach Patrol Capt. William Howarth said. "Way more than the amount of checkers we have."
Taylor Hazlett, 15, of Ventnor, and Meredith Miller, 14, of Linwood, have fathers who used to be lifeguards, and Miller's sister was once a checker as well, "so they sort of talked me into doing that," she joked.
Engelke had another good reason to take the minimum-wage position: "I couldn't get a job," the 19-year-old Galloway Township resident said. "But I don't want to say 'last resort,' because I'm happy to be here."
Reactions during the sweeps are usually noncombative - most of the time.
"Some people are very nice about it," Engelke said. "Some people wait for you to come up to them. But every once in a while, you get someone who'll give you trouble."
"They make excuses a lot of times," Hazlett said. "'Oh, I just forgot them,' stuff like that."
"If they really give us trouble, we call in to headquarters and one of the older people can help us," Miller added.
Howarth said the checkers have been instructed "not to take any lip from anyone."
"Any problems at all, they go to the lifeguard on the beach, and they can send an officer to help with the problem," Howarth said. "That usually takes care of it in two minutes. People make the right decision."
Howarth himself personally handled a situation on New Haven Avenue this summer.
"A group of eight to 10 people didn't have badges and they said they'd bring them down later," he said. "So the checker came back 40 minutes later. 'They're not here yet.' They came by two more times. After three hours, the badges haven't arrived. So I went down and confronted them, and a lady got really, really mad and stormed off the beach to get their badges.
"We try to be as nice as we can, but everyone has to have a badge," Howarth said. "Nobody is different from anyone else. We're not going to let anyone slide, because they're sitting right next to someone who does have a badge. It's the law."
In Cape May, they check badges at the gateways.
At beach entrances, "we have a snowfence and have ramps, almost like a cattle chute they have to come through," said Cape May beach tag supervisor Ed Rotz. "We have 32 entrances, and we position taggers at each entrance."
With the beach sealed off, the only sweeps are made at 10 a.m., when the beach "opens." That's to make sure anyone already there has a badge.
Sea Isle City and Avalon do a combination of sweeps and entrance checks, while Brigantine focuses on areas with parking close to the beach.
For areas with paths through the dunes on the south end of the island, Brigantine director of beach fees Julie Emig said, "It's a long walk, so you don't have much of a crowd at that end. People prefer parking in a lot and walking right to the beach."
After all of the strategies and planning to find the badgeless, beach badge sales have varied from town to town.
As of July 24, Cape May saw sales drop, from about $1,259,000 in 2012 to about $1,243,000 so far this year, Rotz said.
"All of it is attributable to weather," Rotz said. "And it could be worse, because we (raised) the price of two tags: seasonals from $25 to $28 and daily from $5 to $6."
Numbers in Brigantine also were "significantly" lower, Emig said. After bringing in $531,561 in 2012, the city saw seasonal sales of $237,000 in May - when most towns had preseason discounts - and $90,000 in June. Since numbers tend to slow down as the season progresses, matching last year's take would be difficult.
What's helping, Emig said, is healthy daily badge sales - $21,656 worth so far this year.
"People are unsure of what the beaches are going to be like," Emig said of the shore post-Hurricane Sandy. "People are afraid to commit (to a seasonal badge), so we're seeing more day trips. ... But they repaired the beaches beautifully here, and now that people see that, sales are going up."
In Ventnor, however, sales were actually up in June over last year. Howarth said sales totaled $13,838 in June 2013, compared with $10,523 in June 2012.
"That surprised me, because as I read in The Press, we had a record month of June with rain. But the (checkers) did a nice job during the month of June. They're trying a little harder this year."
Among the beachgoers asked for badges was Rachel Resnick, of Ventnor, who had plenty to spare.
"We usually get around 10 for guests or family when they come to visit," Resnick said. "Just in case."
Jason Blumklotz, meanwhile, said he buys a Ventnor badge every summer - which is laudable, as he lives in Oregon.
"He's on this beach once a year," said his friend Ben Seigel, of Silver Spring, Md.
All in all, the sweep was successful, as most people already had badges. But there's always a few trying to put one over.
As Hazlett recalled, "I saw some people eyeing us ..."
Contact Steven Lemongello:
Follow @SteveLemongello on Twitter