SPRING LAKE, N.J. (AP) _ For a growing number of shore towns, the boardwalk is no longer made of boards. Synthetic materials, asphalt or decorative paving stones are slowly replacing wood.

Shore towns say the alternative materials last longer and are safer. But they also cost more, and not everyone likes 1990s technology on walkways that have been around since the 1800s.

``We got some adverse comments from purists who felt it was the equivalent of a plastic Christmas tree,'' said Belmar Mayor Kenneth Pringle, whose borough has replaced about a third of a mile of its boardwalk with planks made of a polymer called Trex.

Spring Lake, Belmar's neighbor to the south, also replaced much of its wooden boardwalk with Trex.

``I prefer the wood,'' said Patrick Martin, a regular walker on the Spring Lake boardwalk. ``Wood looks better. It just looks like a boardwalk. This looks, well, plastic.''

``It's very hot to walk on in bare feet,'' said jogger Monica Giunco. ``But it does have more give to it, and you don't get splinters if you're barefoot.''

Maureen Murray, a spokeswoman for the Winchester, Va.-based Trex Co., said the synthetic boards are designed to withstand the corrosive effects of rain and salt air and provide a safe walk or jog.

``It's extremely weather-resistant, and it's perfect for the oceanside,'' she said. ``It has millions of tourists walking on it, so it has to be durable. And mayors in these shore towns have liability issues with people getting injured on splinters and nails popping up. This takes care of that.''

Although the technology has been around for years, alternative boardwalk materials started catching on at the Jersey shore after a December 1992 storm ripped up boardwalks up and down the coast.