Liquid Lines

A Motorized Fin Could Make Surf Paddling Easier, But What’s the Point?

New Surf Products That Take the Work Out of Surfing? Plus Small Skatepark Progress, Wave Roundup and Holiday Swell
By JON COEN | Nov 27, 2019
Photo by: Jonathan Hoover Brendan Craig lines up a crisp fall wall in the first snowfall of the season.

Earlier this month I got a promotional email from a fledgling company called Boost Surfing. Now to be honest, my first thought was a strange connection to Boost!, the super-sweet soft drink that came out of Burlington County and became a weird South Jersey phenomenon. I remember having a giant glass bottle of concentrated mix in our basement as a kid. You would mix it with water for a weird syrupy caffeine drink. And in my head, they had some odd surf team, event or other odd venture.

Turns out this is Boost Surf, not based in Riverside, N.J. The email read: “As I’m sure you know, surfers spend a majority of their time paddling or lining up for waves and very little time actually riding them. Many surfers don’t get the chance to surf enough to build out the muscle power and stamina needed to constantly paddle. The rigors of constant paddling compared to the small amount of actual ride time can be frustrating, cause burnout and ultimately, deter some from surfing altogether.”

Well, they were correct. I did know this. I’ve never done the math, but I’m going to assume that the time we spend actually riding waves might be in the neighborhood of 2 percent to 5 percent of the time we spend paddling. In fact, you can wait for a swell, watch the surf build, drive around checking the conditions, time your session perfectly, find a spot with fewer people out to score the best day of the season …  and the time you spend actually standing on a surfboard might be less than two minutes. Compare that with skateboarding or snowboarding, where you spend much more time riding sideways, and it seems almost silly.

Yes, I do know this. All surfers know this. But we don’t talk about it. We just do it.

The reason Boost Surfing was trying to remind me of the small amount of time we actually spend riding waves is because it’s marketing its new electric fin designed to reduce paddle time and, therefore, increase wave riding time.

Now, for some reason, the word “electric” sounds strange to me, as if you need to plug into your wall and stay within the radius of an extension cord. Am I going to get electrocuted? I feel like “motorized” is a better word.

The new fin attaches into the fin box of your board, and it can reach speeds of 10 miles per hour. For reference, the average surfer probably paddles about 2 to 3 mph.

When I didn’t respond, I got a follow-up email, which, like the first, was offering me an opportunity to try out the fin in person and, the company hoped, for me to write about it and bring attention to its new product, which is still in the start-up, crowdsourcing stage. It read: “The new electric fin gives surfers turbocharged power on demand and will let surfers of all experience levels make the most out of every swell and surf session by helping them paddle faster and longer, reducing burnout so they can catch up to three times more waves. It’s also a great option for experienced surfers who want to surf longer and catch more waves. The fin will make a great gift and early-bird orders will ship May 2020.”

I read both of them and kept the emails because I had a feeling this was something I might be addressing. Surfing has always had a history of products introduced to surfers by non-surfers. In this case, the product is being launched “by a team of avid surfers with eight successful crowdfunding campaigns.”

Now I have no doubt they have eight successful crowdfunding campaigns. And I am not trying to challenge their status as “avid surfers,” but the very nature of this product suggests that they are not avid surfers in the sense that we might know them on LBI. From the vibe of their emails and website, they sound like bright California entrepenuers who took up surfing in adulthood.

I could be wrong, but it doesn’t sound like this business venture is coming from folks who grew up surfing and found jobs that allow them to surf, being at least loosely connected to the surfing community. This isn’t based on their looks or some skill-based criteria. On that scale, there are days that I would look like I have never surfed in my life. But what suggests the lack of authenticity here is the fact that they have launched an electric fin for surfing. If they were actual avid surfers, it would mean they had spent years learning how to surf, learning how to paddle efficiently and learned the simple fact that an electric fin simply doesn’t fly in most lineups in the world.

It’s simply not how surfing works.

The earliest Californian surfers set a tone and simple rules that have remained for decades. Maybe it was the ancient Hawaiians – I don’t know really. But I know we learned it by simply observing. There are some rules out there, and one of them that is largely unspoken is that having an engine on your board to get you back to the lineup is not part of the program. The norms of our subculture have been challenged in the past by stand-up paddleboards. SUP surfers are able to get out to the lineup faster, catch waves before anyone else and get back for more waves. But now SUP boards have become so performance oriented that the shorter length has become an equalizer.

Yes, you can catch more waves with the faster paddle speed ,and you can get back to the lineup faster. I could be off here, but in the surf world as I know it, a motorized surfboard is not acceptable in the lineup. If you want to paddle faster, work out more. Surf more.

If you recall a decade ago, a company called WaveJet showed up in Harvey Cedars for surfers to demo. We all took turns riding a 6'8 on a day of 2-foot summer wind slop. It was novel to be able to get into the wave early and around the initial closeout section. But the board was completely wrong for the conditions. The general consensus was that it was fun to try and could have incredible potential for ocean lifesaving. But other than that, none of us were going to buy a motorized surfboard for just under $4,000. (That’s the price now, anyway. If anyone was buying these things, the price would have dropped in the last 10 years.) Even sponsoring an East Coast superstar like Cory Lopez didn’t move the dial.

To this day, I have never seen one in the water on the East Coast and saw them only once in Hawaii, where less skilled surfers were using them to get back to the point at Kammieland and then ride the boards – and not ride them very well. I suspected the riders were somehow connected to the company, and not surfers who had purchased the board. Is there anything more annoying than a surfer without experience getting waves simply because he or she is assisted by a motor?

Part of the unwritten code of surfing is that the best surfers get the most waves. They’re supposed to. They’ve put in years, learned to paddle, conditioned themselves, and have more skill to catch waves. Now, if the best surfers in the water have any level of humanity to match their level of skill, they’re going to pick off the bombs and be somewhat cognizant of others also getting waves. This is especially true in the summer when you have year-round surfers in the water with novices.

Surfing’s degree of difficulty – and you could argue that surfing a north swell here in the middle of winter with freezing water, 5 mil suit, ripping current, moderate crowd, and fast, heavy waves, ranks up there with some of the more difficult surf experiences in the world – is surfing’s great equalizer. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Just look at Southern California’s waves. Just look at what the $50,000 expeditions to climb Everest have done to that mountain. It’s a literal sh*tshow up there, littered with human waste and too many inexperienced climbers who are paying to get easy access to the experience.

But as the email explained, the frustration of surfing can “cause burnout and ultimately, deter some from surfing altogether.” Sorry to say this, but that’s the idea. If you want to just go play in the ocean, you are more than welcome to, but if you don’t apply yourself, you don’t advance your surfing.

We certainly strive for better fins and surfboards. We ride longer or thicker boards to catch smaller waves. We want better wetsuits that keep us warmer for longer. But having a jet assist is kind of … cheating.

In our sport, you earn your waves. Granted, the Boost Surf fin at $149 early bird pricing is considerably less of an investment than the WaveJet, which costs way more than my truck. But I still don’t see it being accepted into the lineup. I never responded to the emails.

ACTIVE WEATHER, ACTIVE WAVE PATTERN: The last two weeks have seen extremely dynamic weather, and that’s generally a good thing for our surf here. We’ve had warm, pleasant days, coastal flooding, bitter cold and light offshore winds, a mixed bag that has created a good number of rideable days.

To properly round up the surf, I have to go back to Nov. 12. We had a really fun mid-period, waist- to head-high swell, peaky rights and lefts that lasted all day. A front came through mid-morning, setting the wind true offshore. Not only did it clean things up, but it provided the first snow of the winter. I know I paddled out on a warm autumn day, and when I caught my last wave, it was winter.

By the end of that week, a low had swung out of the Gulf of Mexico and we had a hefty nor’easter on our hands. This revved up to some fierce onshore winds on the 15th and 16th of November. That went more north on Monday, Nov. 17, and a bunch of locals headed up to Long Beach, Long Island. Where we were suiting up, there were four cars and a bunch of surfers from LBI. It was about 5 to 7 foot and offshore, but the crowds were concentrated in nearby Lido, which was even bigger, although packed. That afternoon, the winds swung more north/northwest, and LBI got very good for a period. But with that kind of size and drift, only the top dogs were really getting waves.

Last Monday morning was forecast to be the day, with head-high leftovers, less water moving and offshore winds. But the early session revealed a southwest wind putting a funk on the conditions. An hour later, everyone had left the water as a full south wind came up. The breeze did alternate between light south and west/soutwest through the day, and if you were lucky to catch a window when the tide wasn’t too high, there were a few waves to be had. But it was nothing like the surf we were hoping for.

The next round of sorta-swell came last Friday from a passing front. Light south winds had blown up a small swell, and the wind went offshore in the afternoon. Unfortunately, that meant deep, weak waves at high tide that broke through in only a few places. Sunday gave us another swell, and the offshore winds picked up throughout the morning for some fun 2- to 3-foot surf. The wind and weather soon turned, however. All of this has been pretty fun, but it requires a lot of observing the conditions. We’re coming into the shortest daylight hours of the year, so be mindful and plan accordingly.

SKATEPARK UPDATE: The push for a skatepark in Stafford has become something of a movement in Southern Ocean County, and that was apparent at last Wednesday’s township cuncil meeting. There were several dozen folks in attendance in support of a skatepark, from ages 15 to 55. And now it does seem there is some openness to at least start the discussion from Mayor Greg Myer and council.

The skatepark conversation was led by Frank Cannavo of Stafford, who skates and has a son who skates. They are the ones who started the petition that now has about 1,340 signatures.

Here’s the general gist of where we are at: Stafford had a terrible skatepark in Ocean Acres that was built by a concrete contractor instead of a skatepark design/build company. A lot of skaters never even bothered with it because the design was so bad. The kids who did frequent it caused myriad problems, and the park was buried. Now there is a push for a new park. This is the second monthly meeting where it was discussed.

At one point, the council suggested digging up the old OA park, to which the entire room objected. The Ocean Acres park is dead and buried. It’s a bad memory for everyone. Leave it in the ground.

The council’s initial reaction to a new park, it would seem, is to deflect. These guys are tasked with running the town. They don’t skate. They don’t care if there’s a skatepark. And, fair enough, they do have other things to worry about. And there are certainly obstacles when it comes to building a park, like the cost and keeping the community happy. So to this point, that is what the council has used to deflect. They’re good at that.

However, there are so many skateparks of all sizes in Ocean County that it begs the question – why is it so difficult for Stafford to build and maintain a safe skate facility when there are 29 baseball fields? One after another, folks addressed the council in favor of a skatepark until the council had no choice but to stop deflecting, which is good news. And now it does seem like they are going to have some discussions about costs, a bond, insurance and possible locations. So that’s good news.

Most of the skateboarders made good points, but now it’s time to move the conversation forward. Once the point was made that skateboarding is a healthy activity and skaters are not a menace to society, it was time to stop repeating those points. Skaters kept bemoaning the struggle – points that the board had already agreed on. Skateboarders made good progress, but after a while the conversation has to move from emotionally driven speeches to figuring out the facts – the cost, the logistics, etc.

The council said it is open to separate meetings between skateboarders and the town administrators. It’s not going away. This is the most progress that has been made in a long time; hopefully it keeps up. I will keep you posted here.

STUFFING STUFF: Stocking stuffers, stuffing and stuffing yourself into tubes. It’s looking like it could be a pretty good start to this most holly jolly time of year. I’m specifically talking about waves forecast for Thanksgiving!

Surfers love our holiday swells. There has always seemed to be a disproportionate amount of good waves on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve/Day. Hopefully things line up for that, as there is nothing like picking off solid waves and then arriving at a warm table full of amazing food with family. I might suggest volunteering to do some cooking Wednesday because as stoked as you are, you can’t just show up, water draining out of your nose, for Thanksgiving dinner and eat, unless you’ve already supplied a fat striped bass for the table. And although it’s one of the biggest party nights of the year, maybe try not to go too hard Wednesday …

Look for chest-high surf with steady offshore winds on Thursday morning. The 8 a.m. high tide won’t be ideal, but there should be some good windows when that drains out. Smaller swell is forecast to stick around all day. This will definitely be worth getting on as Friday looks flat, and the rest of the weekend looks like minimal swell with uncooperative winds.

Not that there won’t be anything to do this weekend. First off, you have Black Friday, which some folks have been training for since the last of the Labor Day sales. They’ve been getting in the gym, improving cardio and kickboxing in anticipation of throwing punches over the last Nest video doorbell at Walmart.

I’d recommend using Friday to do something more productive, like taste testing all the leftover pies with your family to see which one has the most staying power. Or go outside. The weekend is shaping up to be chilly to moderate, but mostly nice aside from Sunday’s rain.

Saturday is Small Business Saturday, a region-wide event where the small businesses in our area present their very best as an alternative to the multinational corporations and big box stores. Money spent in small businesses stays in our community. The Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce has created Shop Small Saturday, not only to encourage shoppers to stay local and business owners to make it an event, but also to help show you what’s going on and when. And there is no shortage this weekend.

Saturday night, the Lighthouse International Film Festival presents the award-winning documentary Emocean at South End Surf ’N Paddle. The film is billed as “a salty blend of stories by the eclectic assortment of people sharing tales of adventure and their relationship with the ocean. This film is underpinned by inspiring surfing but is not only for the barrel-hungry, it is also a love letter to the sea woven through with experiences from surfers, filmers, fishermen and marine scientists and watermen.” Tickets are $5 online and $7 at the door. South End has been hosting a film on this holiday weekend for years, and it’s a fantastic tradition. What better way to relive those Thanksgiving tubes with friends?

Beyond that, the 40th annual Ship Bottom Christmas Parade is Dec. 7. It’s actually only three weeks before Christmas this year, instead of the usual five.

Those of us who live here full time or part time certainly have a whole lot to be thankful for. Have a great holiday.

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