OCEAN CITY — Ocean City -- You can't tell at first that this is a beefcake-and-cheesecake fest, one of those summer-Saturday events that lure a crowd and become a spontaneous carnival on the Ocean City Boardwalk.
The Marines on the beach are wearing camouflage pants, boots and bright red shirts that say "MARINES" on them. They attract a little attention, a few knots of Saturday strollers, as they set up the pull-up bar, and spread out the sit-up mat.
But the crowd swells when the shirts start coming off, as bold onlookers, nearly all male, decide that hey, 20 pull-ups can't be that hard. It's an attitude helped along by Marine Capt. Bonnie Mitchell, who pulls herself up over the bar a few times with easy grace, then steps aside for the first contestant.
He's cocky, strutting up to the table to sign a release form, stripping off his shirt.
"I plan on winning a T-shirt," says Darryl Wright, 25, of Centreville. "I'm in the reserves -- I'm just not going to tell them that. They might not let me play!"
Shirts drop like laundry onto the sand and the atmosphere gets )) festively raucous when Mr. Wright walks off carrying a new Marines T-shirt. A line forms at the sign-up table. Samantha Chase of WZBH-FM, a contest co-sponsor, is broadcasting live, and encouraging onlookers to get in line.
But she's no match in the persuasion department for Sgt. James Hahn, 28, who's been touted all day as the holder of the group record for pull-ups (27). He's been at the bar, barking drill-instructor style at the young men who are competing.
Now his attention has wandered off the bar and over to two women in bathing suits watching from the beach. He wants them to try the flexed-arm hang women can substitute for pull-ups in this contest. Seventy seconds on the bar is a T-shirt.
"Sure, you can do it -- look at you! You're in shape," he tells Terrie Cupp, 26, of Mechanicsburg, Pa. She giggles and says that she and her friend, Katie Langan, are instructors at Gold's Gym.
There's a little problem though -- she wants to borrow a shirt to wear to compete, before she's earned it.
Mr. Hahn isn't going to let such a minor detail get in the way here. He gets her a sleeveless red one that says "MARINES DO IT BEST" and walks her over to the pull-up bar with a triumphant grin.
And she's up there, face furrowed with effort, as Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" blasts from radio speakers and the crowd, now about 150 strong, hoots and shouts encouragement.
She lasts 75 seconds before dropping down and announcing that she's going to try the sit-ups next for a second T-shirt -- "If I make this, you can have the T-shirt," she calls to Ms. Langan, who's still watching from the sidelines. The crowd -- and Mr. Hahn -- are ecstatically appreciative.
She gets to 79 -- more than most of the male contestants -- but can't find that last one, dropping exhausted to the mat.
She's just missed setting up a two-T-shirt record for the day. Mr. Hahn's 27-pull-up standard also eventually falls, as one of the day's 260 participants manages to rise above the bar 29 times.
It's the third year the Marines have brought their pull-up bar to the Boardwalk from Baltimore. Mostly the idea is to have fun, says Sgt. Michael Giannetti, a Marine recruiter who's manned the pull-up bar all day. And, oh yes, maybe one of the people who won a T-shirt, or a water bottle or a Frisbee will remember the Marines when they look for a job; it's a way to put a little Marine reminder in people's minds.
For now, the reminder is in the bright red shirts that dot the Boardwalk for the rest of the afternoon, worn by the few, the proud, the people who could do 20 pull-ups or 80 sit-ups.
The Marines will conduct a second day of pull-up and sit-up contests today at noon, at Caroline Street and the Boardwalk.
Anyone 16 or older can participate.