ASBURY PARK, N.J. (AP) — It's a blast from the past, served with youthful abandon, easy aerobics and a sprinkle of yoga-like serenity.
A new concession offers a modern twist on Asbury Park's century-old tradition: swan boats on Wesley Lake.
A short stroll from the Atlantic Ocean boardwalk, locals and tourists alike are now happily pedaling around the shallow inland waters while enjoying a view of Asbury Park's famous old Carousel House (700 Ocean Ave.) and the Victorian splendor of neighboring Ocean Grove.
The boats shaped like sleek storybook creatures — gleaming and proud-looking, their wings curved with a suggestion of Art Deco style — are making quite a splash at this rejuvenated music and beach destination.
Linda Occhipinti and Joseph Gambarony opened Asbury Park Pedal Boats (Lake Avenue, between Heck and Grand avenues) this season.
The precise history and description of the original swan boats are elusive. Unlike the new pedal versions, some apparently were motorized, and accommodated larger groups.
"It looked like a great, big, white swan," local resident Shirley Schneider said, recalling a vibrant, festive family gathering from the past that included the Ferris Wheel and Tunnel of Love at the adjacent Palace Amusements, which closed in 1989.
An old postcard depicts dressed-up ladies and gentlemen in hats in a boat similar to what she described. Going back even farther in time, news accounts from the 19th century provide fascinating glimpses into the colorful era in which the swan boats first thrived.
In June, 1889, the Trenton Evening News' "Asbury Park Doings" column noted "the various kinds of craft that ply up and down" Wesley Lake, including about 100 rowboats and four swan boats.
The following month, an owner of Wesley Lake swan boats, Charles W. Borzell, testified at a drug store operator's bootlegging trial. Borzell, noticing his employees were tipsy, had "decided to get something to drink there himself."
Informed that he needed a prescription for whiskey, "Mr. Borzell replied that he did not want it bad enough for that. It was then intimated to him that it would not cost him anything, as there was a physician there who would write it for nothing."
"Mr. Borzell declined the prescription on those generous terms, but procured the whiskey without it," the Trenton paper said.
In August 1904, "while scores of brilliantly decorated boats laden with laughing passengers were taking part in the marine carnival tonight on Wesley Lake, fire broke out on one of the pleasure crafts called the Swan, with a party of twenty on board," The New York Times reported.
As paper decorations "blazed up," the "affrighted passengers ... shrieked with terror and many of them fainted."
Firefighters prevailed, though the carnival ended "inauspiciously."
Evidence of a swan resurgence appears in a November 1973 Times legal notice, which mentions a Wesley Lake "Swan Boat Ride."
The current boats, steered with a center knob, hold one adult and two children, or two adults and one child. It works equally well with one or two people pedaling.
A ride costs $20 for a half-hour with three aboard, $18 for two, and $15 on Tuesdays.
Three white swans are accompanied by two cheery dragons, a pelican and a very popular black swan.
The concession has hosted birthday groups and a relay race. Passengers have gazed at a full moon, and fireworks, from the backs of fiberglass waterfowl.
The swans have even attracted a bride and groom. The footwork might be tricky in a wedding gown — "but hopefully, the new husband is doing the pedaling," Occhipinti said with a chuckle.
Occhipinti, who's also a personal trainer, isn't sure how many calories the gentle workout can burn. The less-energetic can pedal out and "let the breeze blow you back."
Land-lovers can watch from Adirondack chairs lining the shore.
The concession is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends, weather permitting. Come fall, the swans will be out on weekends through October.
Associated Press Researcher Susan James contributed to this report.