Liquid Lines

Cinco de Mayo Reappropriated, Spring Surf Roundup, and Wildwood-Sized Beaches

By JON COEN | May 01, 2019
Photo by: MarKScottAustinTX/Flickr Honoring the Battle of Puebla in 1862 between the Mexican Army and Napoleon III’s French forces.

Surf City — In 1866, Napoleon III started to draw down his troops in what has become known as the Second French Intervention in Mexico.

Let’s take a break from all the talk of south swells, bag bans and mega resorts on the inbound road to LBI. Who feels like a little history discussion to start the column this week?

The mid-1800s saw a lot of fighting in the New World. And as we all know, the Napoleon family did not take losing all that well. On May 5 of that year, the Mexican army overpowered what was left of the French troops at the Battle of Puebla.

Can you imagine if a leader who made up for his insecurities by constantly starting feuds had been given access to a Twitter account?

Anyway, it was a joyous occasion for Mexicans. When migrant Mexican miners in California heard the news, they fired pistols into the sky.

The tussle had started when Mexico owed money to Britain, France and Spain from some prior wars. (Mexico was constantly fighting for its own independence back then.) Britain and Spain were able to reach deals in the city of Vera Cruz, but that short little pain in the ass, Napoleon, saw the weakened Mexico as a way to get France some play in the new world.

To make a grande story pequeno, he sent a stacked fleet to attack Vera Cruz and drove Mexican President Benito Pablo Juárez García into a hasty retreat.

But on May 5, an army of Mexicans proudly stood their ground against a French force that was twice its size, creating national unity that the young nation had never really had before.

Now the full story of Cinco de Mayo can only be found in the most obscure Mexican texts (and also a half-second search on Google). And I’m going to gloss over the part about the French returning and taking over Mexico for a few years before America started flexing its imperialist muscles.

But I have to imagine there were some inspiring tales and subplots within this historical event of Cinco de Mayo, tales like Mexican general Ignacio Zaragoza after the great battle.

“Today, my brothers, will be a day that will go down in history!” (I’m not going to translate, sorry.)

“Today’s feats will be relived and celebrated for the ages!”

To which one of his sergeants replied, “Our people will celebrate this day hundreds of years from now!”

“Well, actually, our future countrymen will not really make a big deal over it. It’s not like Mexican independence. That’s a big deal. This Cinco de Mayo thing, not so much,” replied Zaragoza.

The army looked dismayed and he knew he had to buoy their spirits.

“But in the United States, it will be celebrated with much enthusiasm.”

“In the United States?” his men would ask.

“Yes, it is there that they will honor your bravery here today.”

“They will have great celebrations?” asked the men.

“Oh yes,” the fearless leader replied.

“And they will tell our tale and speak our names with great reverence?”

“Well ...” replied Zaragoza, “not exactly.”

“Well, how will the honor our victory here today?”

Zaragoza was silent for a moment. He looked to the ground. And then with great excitement he raised his arm in victory.

“They will drink Coronas! Two-for-one deals … or by the bucket. With limes! It will be the top-selling import beer in America!”

“Coronas?” the men asked. “But we don’t even drink that swill.”

“Well, each May 5, they will love it. And also on hot days when they day drink on their boats!” he declared. “And they will eat tortillas.”

“Like the delicious ones that our mothers and wives cook in clay ovens?” the men asked.

“No, they will come in giant bags from the Frito Lay Corp.”

He sensed he was losing their excitement.

“And the tortillas will be gluten free because they are made of maize! And they will have great fiestas. And sometimes if the Cinco de Mayo falls on a Wednesday, they will celebrate on Cinco de Siete. And when they have drank enough Coronas and have moved on to Bud Light Lime, they will wear sombreros in remembrance of this day. And the Mexican restaurants will be mildly busy, but the sports bars and taverns will serve salsa. It will be legendary.”

“Fresh salsa,” replied one of his lieutenants. “That is a nice nod to our culture.”

“Yes!” the general yelled. “But most of the time it will be the kind with high fructose corn syrup, which will be invented by the food industry of the future. And, uh, it is better than fresh salsa because it can be stored for years at a time in a jar or a giant restaurant-sized jug.”

By the time Zaragoza got around to the part about the fiesta’s attention turning from a celebration of Mexican heritage to drunk revelers watching the third period of an NHL playoff game with temporary sugar skull tattoos, he had lost his audience.

As he was launching into the part about the long lines of teenagers in line at Taco Bell on May 5, his men had basically wandered off.

And then Zaragoza dug deep.

“And there will be Tequila!”

That was common ground. The men were excited again. And that is how we got the fantastic holiday that you will be celebrating on Sunday. Happy Cinco de Mayo.

SURF ROUNDUP: First, some important news. The ocean temp recently hit 50. In fact, with Monday’s north winds, it got well into the 50s. Overall, it’s not all that much different from the surf reaching 48 or 49, but it does represent a milestone of spring each year. Considering our ocean got down to about 36 this year (and can dip to 30 in the coldest of winters) the surf temp has made significant progress toward surfing with less wetsuits and less frigid air blowing off the ocean when the wind goes onshore (as it’s more apt to do when the ocean is colder in the spring).

But each degree we gain is a step closer for folks to be able to simply go for a swim, not just for the sake of surfing.

Most of us have downgraded from our 5-mil gloves. Last Tuesday was about chest high with with warm air, light winds and not a lot of duck diving. I was able to lose my hood and also saw a few dolphins out there. If you figure that the ocean comes up about 2 degrees net per week, we just might hit 60 by Memorial Day, which would be nice. Sixty-degree water for the holiday weekend is an exception rather than a rule.

That’s not to say that the water can’t drop down again. Especially as we get warmer, south winds, upwelling will have a tendency to drive it down a few degrees. But I don’t see any major multi-day south blows in the short term, so hopefully we keep riding this trend.

The surf has been a decent ride as well. Last Monday was fair with moments of brilliance. This was part of a multi-day south swell with a few hundred miles of fetch. Unfortunately, the winds were uncooperative throughout most of the swell. I wouldn’t call it a great day because the forecast was bangin’ and the surf was not so much for a lot of the day, but the very early and then late afternoon offshores were good. Had the wind cooperated when the size was there, it would have been a hell of a day. Nonetheless, there were still some bright flashes and barrels to be had in some clear, blue water.

And not that this had much to do with the surf, but the sunset was absolutely brilliant. I’m not sure if anyone else did, but I missed a few sets due to staring westward at the oranges.

As mentioned above, Tuesday morning was warm and blissful with some playful waves.

The rest of the week was pretty forgettable aside from some log waves on Thursday. Friday’s weather built up a bit more swell. The wind went offshore on Friday evening, which is usually a poor sign, an indication that the size will get blown down and the morning will reveal smaller, windy closeouts. There were some mixed reports from folks who were bummed out with the size on Saturday morning, but I saw plenty of chest and shoulder-high waves out there and offshore winds amid the lines of the Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic Spring Derby. The winds did start honking, but the swell kept up. Even in the afternoon, there were still some perfectly clean waist-high bowls to be had with no one out as far as you could see.

Early week was pretty dismal. Look for a bump in swell today (Wednesday) and tomorrow. Average surf heights tend to drop off in May, but there’s always a chance of a last nor’easter and, to be fair, it’s rarely flat. At least there are usually some smaller days with less rubber. Might be a good time to get the longboard out. Hopefully the tropical storm force offshore winds that we seem to get on a weekly basis will back off as well.

BIG OL’ BEACHES: We’re not quite Wildwood, but we’re close.

This winter was an anomaly. While there was one swell after another, there were very few north swells and we didn’t have any of those four-day nor’easters. Those are the ones that tend to cut up the beaches. Dare I say it, but this winter saw virtually no erosion. And spring/summer is when we see the beaches actually gain sand.

Some stretches, like North Beach, look rather thin, but those are traditionally narrow beaches. Other spots, like Surf City and Ship Bottom, are absolutely huge. I don’t know that we have ever seen the beaches so wide. Most of the sandbars look pretty good for surfing and also for wading/swimming when we start to get north of 60 degrees.

As I wrote a few weeks back, the state of the beaches is good news to everyone. The dunes are looking solid with plenty of protection from hurricanes and next winter’s storms. The towns, restaurants, real estate offices and retailers are happy because there’s plenty of room for all those asses in the sand, which translates into good business (as long as the weather holds). Of course, surfers are happy with the sandbar set-ups right now. And I think everyone is grateful the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers isn’t coming back to pump anytime soon. In fact, we’re not scheduled for work until 2022.

So now that we have these huge beaches, I wonder if we’re going to start hosting Wildwood-esque events like monster truck rallies and vintage motorcycle races. I’m just picturing how that would go over with LBI’s Vineyard Vines crowd.

I’d point out that Wildwood’s beaches are also free, but then I’d be a real troublemaker.

SO LOCAL: 3, 2, 1 … go! The countdown is on. If you own or run any type of business on LBI this is crunch time. The late Easter (seriously, was that not the nicest Easter Sunday on LBI?) and mild weather has kind of opened the doors on the season a little early. For builders and tradesmen, it’s a sprint to the finish to get that project done before the homeowners come down for Memorial Day. If you have a shop, restaurant or any manner of side hustle, it’s time to boogie. My friend recently referred to it as the “silly season.” If anyone is headed to Home Depot, call me first. I probably need something.

On Friday, the core of the locally-based Surfers As Life Savers held a demonstration at St. Francis Community Center, with 15 people in attendance, a number they were happy with considering the late notice of the event. Unfortunately, they had to work in the demo between thunderstorms when the pool closed.

“We demonstrated about 12 skills – three for approaching handling distressed but conscious swimmers, three for escaping a swimmer who may try to grab you, three for getting a weak or unconscious swimmer onto a board if they are unable to do it themselves, and three skills for special situations or special boards. We talked a bit about the visible signs and symptoms that indicate swimmer/surfer distress, and coaching people away from hazards before making contact. The full training will include more on those things, likely in a classroom setting with CPR, and then a skills session in the water. We’re hoping to start them in June,” says Stephane Rebeck, one of the directors.

It was followed by some good discussion and questions from the group about agency affiliation, insurance, dispatching, etc. Ultimately, they see this being a volunteer squad Island-wide.

“We were very clear that while those are ultimate goals, SALT is just a free public education program at this point, rooted in the belief that a trained community is a safer community, and that these rescue skills can be as basic and beneficial to surfers as calling 911 or knowing bystander CPR are, or should be, to the average citizen.”

With the training, surfers would be more prepared to respond. Since in many cases, volunteer agencies will be called or en route, training will also include how to identify police, fire and EMS personnel; how to make yourself known to them; and when to back off or stay out of the way. I really hope that I am able to share more of what they are doing and get the surf community more involved.

Stop in and check out the recently raised and revamped Island Surf and Sport in Brant Beach. Following a very lengthy process, Terry Deakyne and his watersport outfit shop are back in business. You can read the full article in this issue. It’s looking to be a very bright season at the shop.

Last weekend was the Carolina Cup in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., the biggest SUP race in the country. A few South End Surf ’N Paddle team racers and regional paddlers who come down to LBI for events did well including Josette Latta, who took third place in the 50-plus women’s, and Ken Balcerski, who took ninth in 50+ Men’s. Team paddlers Ken and Andrea Rinaldi also put in good times.

Locally, we’re going to start to see a heck of a lot more events now, starting with all the Cinco de Mayo parties. I believe I’ve already done those justice above.

Beach Haven has its Seafood Festival on May 18. Then on May 19, you can cheer on your favorite local business in the Kicking It 4.0 Kickball Tournament at Southern Middle School, the Lotus Project’s annual fundraising event. There are still slots available at $150 per team and double elimination format.

Also on May 19, the Girl Scouts will host “Explore Our Shore” at St. Mary’s of the Pines in Manahawkin. Troop 395 will discuss our local ecosystem from the ocean to the bay and how we can make a difference in the world around us. It’s really cool to see this young generation being proactive on the environment. After all, they are the ones who will inherit the problems from yesterday that we are doing very little about today.

The first Island paddle race of the season is June 1, the Hop Sauce Tune Up, which is held at the Taylor Avenue waterfront in Beach Haven and run by South End Surf ’N Paddle. All proceeds go to Alliance for a Living Ocean. Then spend the day at Hop Sauce, the Island’s big spring event with craft beers, amazing local food and dozens of hot sauces. Mercy Union is headlining this year.

Getting busy, so get to work. I know everyone has deadlines – decks to finish, pies to bake, houses to show, asparagus to harvest and inventory to stock. Let’s hope for less biblical rain than last year and maybe do a little better remembering the reason for Mother’s Day than we do for Cinco de Mayo.

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