Either way, you’re gonna pay in NJ.

It’s just a matter of who.

And as much as we like to tout the benefits of the Jersey Shore (“Stronger Than the Storm” and all that); it’s not out of the question to spurn all that and join a swim club.

Why, you ask, when there are over 120 miles of shore to enjoy?

Well, let’s count the ways.

Beach passes aren’t cheap. Neither is parking, nor gas for that matter.

And despite the money put back into the shore to restore it, the beaches aren’t going to be free anytime soon, not even for a week, despite the pleas of my friend Steve. (See link)

So with that in mind, why not join a swim club?

Thinking back to when I was a kid, it was kind of ironic to have swim clubs dotting the Coney Island shoreline when you had miles of ocean right in front of you.

But that’s what we did in the summer of ’63.

We belonged to Steeplechase Pool.

There were plenty of advantages to that.

Lockers you could change your clothes in, steam rooms and showers so that you didn’t come home all salty. (And yes, the pool was filled with ocean water, so it was like going to the beach without the sand.)

And besides, if you missed the beach, you could always walk under the proverbial boardwalk and get your fill of sand, waves, and the melodic sound of the knish man selling his specialties his mom probably sweated over making in her kitchen in Brighton Beach.

According to this: swim clubs memberships peak as heat rises in N.J.

As soggy summer storms gave way to broiling heat in recent weeks, it’s no surprise pools, lakes and beaches are the place to be, but local swim clubs in particular have seen an upswing in memberships and attendance as the summer days— and heat indexes — peak.

“[The rainy weather] was tough, especially for the snack bar, but so many more people came out when it got warmer, the memberships went up, now we’re having games and barbecues. It’s really good,” said Louise Biondi, the manager of Gloucester County's Wenonah Swim Club, which was bustling with swimmers, divers and sunbathers on Monday morning.

The recession and economic downturn led to a lot of families trimming the fat in their budget and bypassing the yearly membership fee, but as the economy has slowly recovered year by year, so have the swim club memberships and swim team rosters.

“We had a low point about three or four years ago, but we’re steadily regaining our membership. We’re not where we’d like to be, but I’m not sure any pool is where they’d like to be,” said Steve Pierangeli, one of the trustees at Splash Swim Center in Pennsville, adding they’ve seen a particularly good showing this summer. “Everything’s good now.”

Sara Morgan, president of Mannington Swim Club, said their numbers are growing more each year, as new members add to the same returning families who have been coming for generations.

“We’ve been steadily rising in the last five years. We love it,” Morgan said.
Family membership fees vary from each club’s location, size and amenities, and Morgan said with an all-volunteer board running the club, they’ve been able to keep costs down to just $375 for the whole summer.

“We try to keep it very affordable for families,” she said, adding it’s a lot cheaper than building or even keeping up with a private pool. “If you were maintaining your own pool at home, you have the cost of chemicals, electricity, keeping it safe, meeting the township municipal laws ... We’re a very community oriented pool, we’re run by volunteer members like myself. We have a clean up crew, a dedicated team of members that just love the pool, and by doing that it keeps our costs down.”

While the Wenonah Swim Club, secluded among the tall trees of the borough since 1957, is pricier at about $600 a summer for a family, its cost is in line with family memberships at other clubs in the area, and still pales in comparison to the cost, time and effort in a home pool, Biondi said.

“You don’t have to worry about the water, or taking care of the grounds. There’s no maintenance for members,” Biondi said. “Parents can relax, even stay-at-home moms make friends here. It’s the social aspect as well.”

Even beyond convenience and catching up with friends, members say the club and swim team is a way their kids can stay busy, active — and with members coming from all over the area — interact with friends outside of their neighborhoods or schools.

“It gives them structure. All summer long they have a place to go,” said Beth Springman, an East Greenwich resident and member at Wenonah Swim Club. She and fellow member Wendy McKenna said they were especially thankful for the swim team, despite having to sit through the four-hour long meets in 90 degree weather.

“It offers a lot of camaraderie,” McKenna said, adding it’s good to see the older kids bonding with the littler ones. “The older kids seem to embrace the younger ones. It’s all you could ask for.” Her 8-year-old daughter Audrey though, couldn’t pick just one thing she loved about the club.

“I like to play with my friends in the pool. I like to go on the diving board, and I like to sit in the lounge chair and read magazine,” Audrey said. “I like everything about the pool.”

Robin Lukens, a 17-year-old lifeguard who's grown up going to the swim club, said it’s really about the family experience.

“My cousins all come here ... Generation after generation comes back,” Robin said. “There’s always someone here you know, and you’re never bored.”

Kind of like “The Flamingo Kid”. People keep coming back year after year.

So the Posse Poll wants to know; which would you prefer, going to the shore or belonging to a swim club?

Here come the "bennies" comments!