Once among the top seaside resorts on the East Coast, Asbury Park is keeping abreast of vacationers' changing tastes: It is considering letting women go topless on a city beach.
But unlike other secluded nude beaches in the Garden State, this one could be right in your face, with the boardwalk offering a prime view that some parents might not want junior to see.
The city council is considering a request from Reggie Flimlin, an Asbury Park woman who owns a yoga studio, to allow women to decide for themselves whether they want to wear bikini tops on the beach. She says it's already happening on less populated beaches in the city's north end.
"A lot of women are just organically deciding they want to sunbathe without their top," she said. "That's great, that's fine, and I have no problem with it."
The 48-year-old city resident has lived and sunbathed topless in Europe and Miami, where such conduct is paid little mind.
"Being at the beach without a top is a choice I make," said Flimlin, 48.
She said Asbury Park, with its thriving gay and lesbian community and its wildly diverse ethnic and racial population, has long been progressive.
"Asbury has always prided itself as having an open mind and being accepting and welcoming to a lot of different cultures and lifestyle choices," she said. "If not in Asbury Park, where else in New Jersey would a woman have the right to choose whether or not she has to wear a bathing suit top?"
Right now, that would be Gunnison Beach on Sandy Hook, part of the federal Gateway National Recreational Area, where total nude bathing is permitted. Higbee Beach, a Cape May County beach that once permitted nude bathing now no longer does due to problems with sexual activity in the dunes and parking lot.
That's the kind of thing that has some folks here worried as well. Phil Mansfield, 23, has been a lifeguard on Asbury Park's beaches for the past four years. He's seen the number of families increase each year as the resort makes a comeback from decades of decay.
"If it becomes a topless beach, those families might stop coming," he said. "People from the city might come, but I think the local families might stop coming."
There is no state law banning topless bathing. The state Attorney General's Office says it is up to local communities to decide through their own ordinances what level or dress — or lack thereof — is acceptable on the sand.
James Famularo, Asbury Park's assistant city manager, said the idea was not dismissed out of hand when it was suggested last week. The problem, he said, is finding a suitable location.
The city's most popular beaches are wide enough to accommodate beachgoers, but narrow enough so that people strolling on the boardwalk can see all the way to the water. One suggestion would use an isolated beach near Eighth Avenue, away from the crowd and blocked at least partially by a rolling sand dune.
The problem: a 26-story senior citizen high-rise apartment building looking down on the sand. The city council is to give the mater further consideration on July 7.
In the early and mid 20th century, Asbury Park was a thriving seaside resort. It once was such a part of the national popular culture that it was referenced on "The Honeymooners" TV show, when Alice mocked Ralph Kramden for investing in "that uranium field in Asbury Park." And rock legend Bruce Springsteen cut his musical teeth here.
But the advent of air travel put more exotic beaches within easier reach of most Americans. White flight and poverty following the 1960s left Asbury Park gasping for air.
During the last decade, a renaissance has taken hold, led by an expanding gay community and a widening embrace of the city's diversity.
Ryan Matthews, a 27-year-old surfer, says women should be allowed to decide for themselves what to wear to the beach.
"I think people in the U.S. are way too conservative," he said. "I don't think it would matter one way or another. It's totally not a big deal."
And Flimlin feels a city-sanctioned topless beach would put Asbury Park back on the map again.
"It would make Asbury even more desirable," she said. "It's already nice and edgy now."
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