The SandPaper

Surf Has Been Running Hot and (Very) Cold With Great Gatherings on the Horizon

Liquid Lines

LOOK AT THAT!: Peter George deep in the barrel and warm on the Hurricane Nicole remnant swell. (Photo by LJ Hepp)

Does anyone else feel like they walked out of their house barefoot onto the green grass in the middle of November and Old Man Winter just came charging around the side of the house at full speed, launched himself horizontally and brutally form tackled you? It was somewhere between John C. Reilly taking down Will Ferrell for molesting his drum set in “Step Brothers” and an Adam Sandler/Bobby Boucher Waterboy tackle. And there we were, just laid the hell out in the front yard, freezing.

And as we collected ourselves, then crawled back into the warm house last week, we started to hear that familiar dull roar. It’s not the violent high and low explosions of gusts against our north-facing windows and walls like we experience in a stiff nor’easter. It’s the drone of the northwest wind, the cold wind, the high-pressure winter wind. It’s the wind that parks itself and blows for days, killing any chance of waves and blowing all the water out of the bay.

That has been the scene of late: winds howling at 40 mph, morning lows in the 20s with wind chills in the teens on Monday morning and general weather that numbs you to your core. But hey, we have survived harsh winters before. What’s the big deal?

The big deal is it’s not winter yet.

We’re a full month away from the solstice. The temps last week were 20 and 30 degrees below our normal November weather. The average high for Nov. 20 is a lovely 55 degrees. The high on Sunday was 37, and the wind made it feel far colder.

But the real shock to our collective system – the reason we took such a hard hit – was that Local Summer had gone right into the middle of November this year. There were still leaves on trees, and the grass has been growing. The weekend of Nov. 12 and 13 was one of the wildest seasonal shifts any of us can remember. From anywhere you stood that Saturday, you could see dozens of people on the beach. There were kids actually swimming in the shore break – in mid-November! The waves were pumping thanks to a tropical storm, winds were light, and the temp topped out at 71. By all accounts, it was glorious. A few friends and I sat by a backyard fire that night in Old Manahawkin, sharing our tales of waves and sunshine.

But that night, the cold front came through. The ocean was still relatively warm, but the air had dropped and the wind was biting. Up in Vermont, the Magic Mountain called the drop  “70 to heavenly,” as they blew snow. Killington was open by last Friday. The temps dropped faster than your Bitcoin. Numb hands had to be warmed in front of roaring fires. It was too early to put a Santa hat on your 14-foot Home Depot Halloween skeleton, but too cold to be out there mucking around on a ladder.

From there, things just got colder and colder until finally the last holdouts had to bite the bullet and turn off the outside shower. Summer to winter in a matter of days. This is going to be an interesting season.

WAVES HOT AND COLD (LITERALLY): The waves have been either firing of late, or absolutely flat. I’m going to say the remnants of the Tropical Storm Nicole swell provided one of the best surf days of the year.

Nicole was a rare storm that formed out of a North Atlantic low-pressure system in early November – interestingly, the same low that had given us days of waves in the first week of November. Nicole became a hurricane on Nov. 9 and made landfall on the East Coast of Florida a day later. The storm took an inland route and “backdoored” us, on a southwesterly to northeast axis, which meant heavy south winds to the east of the storm and a good amount of fetch, even though the eye of the system was technically over land.

The wind was pretty quick to switch that Saturday with waves head high and sets coming in well overhead, but there was still a lot of drift and rawness in the swell. That said, if you lined up the right one, there were some tubes to be had, mostly rights, but some lefts.

By mid-day, the sun was shining, the beach was warm and the wind had almost died. The drift had eased, and the glassy surf was absolutely gorgeous, still overhead. From Barnegat Light to Holgate, you could pull into barrels at the more high-profile spots or simply find your own private peelers. Bigger set waves peaked up for nice drops and long lines – powerful, but still plenty rideable and user friendly. The best part was the ocean was still nice and warm, with some surfers even forgoing boots. The party went right until sunset.

The front that came through late that night didn’t kill the surf, but it did dampen the vibe. Sunday morning was dark, windy and chilly. I might add that most who had surfed themselves out on Saturday were pretty gassed. But there were still some chest-high waves to be had, which waned through the day. Both the surf and temps were down last Monday. The next low pressure set up that Tuesday, directly over us, building some healthy east swell. The forecasts called for waist- to chest-high waves, but the surf overdelivered.

“I love when the forecast calls for 2- to 3-foot surf, and then it winds up being 2- to 3-foot overhead,” local surfer Chris Huch told me.

The surf cleaned up nicely early and sets were significant, though not scary, with nice A-frames in straight offshore winds. The surf really fired most of the day, not falling off until afternoon. By the evening session, it had that pretty, groomed out early-winter look and was perfect for a fish or longboard.

The surf fell off by Wednesday and has been less than 1 foot since then …  hella hot to way cold.

TOASTY BARRELS: Brad Ahto enjoys a bit of the warm swell on November 12 in Harvey Cedars.

And while we’re talking cold, the ocean just dropped from 55 on Nov. 17 to 45 a week later. Again, way above average to way below. Ten degrees is a huge loss. That does happen in the summer, but at least we know it’s coming back up (well, maybe not last summer). While that may equalize when we get out of the northwest wind pattern, for the most part our warm water is gone until late May. It’s time to break out the 4-mil with full boots and glove accoutrements.

Sadly, we don’t have any banger sessions in sight for the holiday weekend. If anything, we might see the wind start blowing south on Thanksgiving Day, building surf, but nothing clean. If you’re gathering with friends and family and really want to get in a surf, Friday is likely your day. Expect smallish surf with southwest winds, going more west through the day. Stronger winds in the afternoon will likely kill whatever is out there, but a session is a session. Saturday will offer a tiny wave, but lighter offshore winds. Sunday could see some erratic weather and another chance to hop in there.

As for weather, the temps have already rebounded to more seasonable, even if still on the cool side and staying decent through the week for your other outdoor pursuits.

RED HATS FLOATING: Sorry, not Santa hats. I know some readers really hate it when we paddle into political tides, but those rising waters were the very topic of conversation at a recent political event where the most famous Red Hat of all, the very fella who made red hats fashionable (even before Ye) mentioned it. And the first rule of the red hat movement is never admitting you were wrong.

Now, I am going to break this down and say right from the start that while the 24-hour news cycle promotes some silliness, I don’t hold the media as an enemy of the state, especially when they report what actual scientists have to say.

At this recent event, Mr. Red Hat declared, “They say the ocean will rise one-eighth of an inch over the next 200 to 300 years.”

In actuality, what the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration said is that the ocean will rise one-eighth of an inch per year. That’s 1 inch every eight years, roughly 2 feet in 300 years, thanks to human-caused climate change. And actually, sea level is rising faster on the East Coast; Rutgers points to New Jersey rising 3.5 feet in the next 100 years.

Now this guy has been known for distorting the truth, but this is an interesting strategy. Assuming the “they” in his statement is NOAA, which could be interchangeable with the consensus of climate scientists in general, he seems to be using their data to back his claims that humans should go on clear cutting, burning and polluting at the current rate. Nothing to worry about here, folks. Is he now citing a source that he once claimed to be fake? If so, he is way off on the numbers, but if he is crediting these scientists and what they say is true, his red hat followers would then believe that, as NOAA says, “Disruptive and expensive, nuisance flooding is estimated to be from 300 percent to 900 percent more frequent within U.S. coastal communities than it was just 50 years ago.”

Just to be clear, LBI is a poster child for nuisance flooding, and most of our elected officials, who are in the same party as the red hats, are fairly busy trying to prepare our Island for some effects of global sea level rise – even if they say they don’t believe in it. From climate migration and famine to a flooded Boulevard, humanity has to face this. And no candidate has the perfect answers.

In the weeks since the forecasted mid-term Republican “red wave” turned out to be more purple wind slop (since they’re going to use surf terms), you’ve heard every news source talk about how DJT is in the national rearview mirror. His “made” candidates didn’t win. Climate change denial is barely an issue in the big picture of this candidacy. Apparently, the country is over his mistruths, tirades and attempt to lead middle-aged men with goatees out of Dunkin Donuts and into the second American Civil War.

Again, I’m not calling the media “fake news,” but I do disagree with the national pundits and columnists on this one. Here’s where the “Don’t Tread on Me” crowd and I agree …

He’s not done. Because while commentators, leaders of his own party, and conservatives who think maybe there’s something to this climate change thing may want the age of DJT to be over, a mass of folks who voted for him do not.

One eighth of an inch in 300 years vs. one eighth of an inch every year is a huge difference, but nothing his followers will question. Deities don’t make mistakes. The climate is not changing. Voting for him and then against him is admitting you were wrong. Can’t break the first rule. Besides, what do you do with those flags you’ve been flying for eight years like we’re some kind of struggling war-torn autocracy?

Get ready for another run, whether they like it or not.

EVENTS AND SUGAR COOKIES: OK, back to Santa hats. Get ready for sugar and flour season. There’s a whole lot happening in our surf community the next few weeks. This is part of what we call “Happy Winter,” as opposed to the long, dark months right after the new year. So maybe take advantage. It’s a tradition for surfers to stuff themselves into tubes in the morning and then stuff themselves at the table that evening. Again, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it doesn’t look like there will be waves on Thanksgiving. But plenty to do otherwise.

This Friday starts the Tuckerton Seaport Holiday Boat Tours. Beginning at 5 p.m., you board the boat and take a narrated cruise of Tuckerton Creek, hearing about holiday traditions from the past and present, enjoying the holiday lights on the water. Tickets are $10 for members and $15 for non. This is in addition to all the other fun activities at the Seaport this holiday season.

On Saturday, Nov. 26, the Lighthouse International Film Society will present “The Yin & Yang of Gerry Lopez” at South-End Surf ’N Paddle. The film was produced by Patagonia about Lopez, aka “Mr. Pipeline” – his radical side vs. his Zen side. Tickets are $10 in advance at Lighthouse and $12 at the door. South-End owners Ken and Sheryl do a nice job of transforming the shop into a theater. Not a bad place to start your shopping, either.

For the next few Saturdays, Wave Hog Surf Shop will be having group surfs, followed by movie night at the shop. The surfing will be conditions permitting. If it’s flat or blown out, the surf part will likely get scrapped, but even if there’s a little wave on these Saturday afternoons, sometimes it’s worth paddling out with a fun crew. And these guys are a fun crew. Anyone is invited to attend, and you are encouraged to bring your own snacks and beverages. (Everyone likes baked treats.)

The Wave Hog crew kicked it all off last Saturday at the shop. The surf was flat, but at 6 p.m., a bunch met back at the shop to watch Kyle Pahlow’s 2008 feature “A Pleasant Surprise.” Pahlow was originally an LBI local, now living in California, but the film was full New Jersey. They will be there again on Dec. 3. Festivities start at the shop with the Ship Bottom Christmas Parade at 1. At 3, everyone will be walking up to the Seventh Street Beach in Ship Bottom. As of now, that sandbar is decent, and I would assume all the offshore winds haven’t hurt it. They will be playing the 2010 film “Dark Fall,” still the single greatest New Jersey surf film ever.

The last of the scheduled Surf Movie Nights is Saturday, Dec. 17. Again, there will be a group surf at 3 p.m. followed by “North of the Sun” at 6 p.m. This 2014 film is about two surfers who spent nine months living and surfing on an isolated Norwegian island. This one will likely be the “holiday cheer” installment and a chance for you to catch up on your holiday shopping at Wave Hog.

The Shack Boardshop at Schooner’s Wharf in Beach Haven has a really cool holiday gig going on. You pop in the shop and fill out one of its holiday wish lists with everything you want in the store. That alone gets you a $10 gift card. Then your family and friends can come in and buy you whatever they choose from the list. Sounds dope, and they have some very cool decks right now.

Dec. 3 will start the first of three Saturday Jetty Holiday Village events in a row (Dec. 3, Dec. 10 and Dec. 17). These are festive pop-ups outside the Flagship Store on Bay Avenue in Manahawkin, featuring tables of local vendors. There will be music at all three, the Jetty Rock Foundation bar on Dec. 10 and Dec. 17 with appearances from the Out of Sight Alpacas, and photos with Surfy Santa and Wilbur the Wagon on the second two dates.

And of course, Farias and Jetty still have the auction going on for Pat Harrington’s last purchased surfboard until Christmas. During his battle with cancer, this beloved local guy ordered Lost Sub Diver, but never got to ride it. Buy tickets at Farias. The money goes to a scholarship fund and the Southern Regional Surf Team.

Folks, have a great Thanksgiving. Even with the sea rising and our Island culture up for grabs to the highest bidding developer, it’s still a pretty great place to live.

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