Liquid Lines

Great Wave Pool Supposedly Coming to Jersey; Harvey Cedars Gives Surfing Outside the Flags the Green Light

Jul 03, 2019
Courtesy of: South End Surf ’N Paddle Mike Karol mows foam at South End Surf ’N Paddle’s Shapefest last weekend.

You have to imagine the lack of surf is getting to people. We’ve now gone three weeks without seeing anything more than a 2-foot wave.

I’d say that if you’re jonesin’ for a rush you could always head to the supermarket. Dodging carts this week as everyone stocked up for the granddaddy of all BBQ days was sure to get your adrenaline flowing.

There are a few surfers around looking at the forecast, which looks equally dismal, and thinking of booking a trip to the Texas Surf Ranch in Waco. Because that’s an option now. It’s kind of impossible to talk surfing in 2019 without discussing wave pools.

For those who don’t read surf sites, mags and follow the worldwide surfing deluge of content on social media, wave pools and artificially produced swells have been one of the central themes in recent years.

In 2015, the first videos were released of Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in Lemoore, Calif. It was a fairly iconic moment that transcended surfing to a mainstream audience, falling somewhere between the theatrical release of “Endless Summer ”in 1965 and Gabrielle Reece and Laird Hamilton getting naked for ESPN 40 years later.

While I think a lot of the world was titillated by the idea of Gabrielle sending nudes, we were also curious if the size of Laird’s bits and pieces were in relation to the size of his big-wave exploits. I don’t know that we ever found out if he has a gun or a groveler, but I do know that you can now buy sacks of his branded “Performance Mushrooms” and “Superfood Creamer” at Walmart. (I swear I did not make up those names.)

I noticed a few key points in the time since then. The first was that it wasn’t groundbreaking because it was the first man-made wave but rather there were already man-made waves and this was so much better. It’s like if you had only ever eaten at Little Caesars or Papa John’s and someone dropped you off in the middle of Little Italy surrounded by the most amazing pizzas and sauces of local tomatoes and fresh basil. That times 1,000. So the fact that we were already aware of the lousy sauce and fake mozzarella of Dorney Park and Typhoon Lagoon at Disney made Kelly’s dream wave look like science fiction. There were 45-second barrels!

Anyway, the rest of America quickly lost interest in all this and went down the rabbit hole of Hillary’s emails that year.

But surfers were riveted. The Kelly Slater Wave Co. had done a fantastic job keeping it secret. Those who were invited for sneak peaks had to sign hefty non-disclosure agreements and photos and videos never leaked until it was time.

Some cheered. Some scoffed. Some started to scheme about how they could get there. Most of us just assumed we would never have a shot at it. I was personally blown away by the feat of engineering but knew that even once the initial price came down (it was said to be $10,000 for an hour) I’d still never afford it. .

For the next few years, we watched, via every manner of media, surfing’s most talented and influential ride the wave.

In 2016, the International Olympic Committee announced that surfing would be in the Games of the 2020 Olympiad. We could all read the writing on the wall. Surfing would take a new direction and it was toward wave pools. They’re far more consistent than the ocean. Next summer’s Olympics will be held at a beach in Japan, but you have to imagine that freshwater is the future.

The first real event to be held at Slater’s Surf Ranch was the World Surf League’s Founder’s Cup in May 2018, featuring the sport’s best surfers in an exhibition team format. It was broadcast live on CBS, something that couldn’t have happened up to that point because prior, no one could buy television time and know with any certainty that the waves would be any good.

I found the Founder’s Cup to be less of a splash. To be fair, thousands of people bought tickets and went out to the middle of nowhere to watch what became a massive party soaked in Michelob Ultra.

It also looked to be pretty exclusive. All those people paid to go out and watch the wave, not surf it. Unlike the Trestles Hurley Pro, you couldn’t just hike to Church and paddle out. The impression that many of us got was that the wave was built for Kelly, John John, Steph Gilmore, Jordy and Felipe Toledo. When they were elsewhere, it would be accessible to a few CEOs who would ride their mid-lengths, Kelly’s friends and a handful of Orange County surfers whose dads owned successful franchises. It was a party we would never be invited to.

And that is something that ran counter to everything in surfing that came before it. Beside some questionable surf resort waves in the South Pacific, waves are for everyone. Even waves that are legally inaccessible by land because of private property are accessible by boat. The heaviest waves in the world are open to anyone with enough sack to sit deep and go.

And as we watched the same wave break over and over with long lulls of dead space between, it seemed pretty dull. I mean, no one can take away from what they built, but we’d already been watching that wave for three years and had seen almost everything done on that platform.

About a week later, the WSL Tour descended on Brazil for the Oi Rio Pro, which is considered one of the lesser stops on tour. The energy on the beach and the passion of the Brazilian crowds make up for the average surf.

But that particular event got moved to a break called Barrinha and the swell turned on. Like, it was mental – overhead, clean, hollow and heavy. I happened to be walking through the living room when my roommate was watching the semifinals and I had to stop what I was doing. The surf was insane, much better than we’d ever seen Rio.

But it wasn’t perfect.

And that, frankly, is what made it so amazing. Each time Julian Wilson or Felipe Toledo pulled into one of those beefy tubes, we had no idea if they were coming out or not. It was such a stark contrast to the wave pool, where we knew exactly what the wave was going to do every single time. Random nature of swell and conditions are one of those things that make good surf so special.

There’s beauty in spontaneity.

Not knowing what each wave was going to do made it exciting. And after watching all those carbon copies of the wave pool, the Oi Rio Pro seemed to have the most interesting wave in the world.

It was about the same time that video first appeared of the BSR Surf Ranch in Waco Texas. This, too, was a man-made wave, not as long and perfect, but there seemed to be more than one wave at a time. And while it wasn’t free, it certainly didn’t look exclusive. Hell, one of the first people I saw video of was Rob Kelly from Ocean City. We share waves with him all the time in the off-season here. So there was this that we could potentially ride, the BSR Surf Ranch. And we could ride it with our buds.

In 2018, we also learned that there was a new wave pool coming to the Meadowlands. Actually, if we’re talking chronologically, we had heard rumors back in the early 2000s about the Xanadu project at the Meadowlands that was supposed to include an indoor wave pool. But how good could it actually be? And it faded to a memory pretty quickly when they went bankrupt in 2007.

But then there was a new rumor of a wave pool in North Jersey a few years ago at a new spot called the American Dream Complex to offer retail, sports, ski dome, amusements and entertainment. When the actual complex started to be built in East Rutherford, we found out that American Wave Machines would be the one building it. That was a game changer.

In typical fashion, the public relations folks were claiming it would be ready any day now. But I heard first hand from a contractor last fall that we wouldn’t be getting freshwater tubes any time soon.

There, however, is hope. Most recently in an interview in Surfer magazine, the founder of American Wave Machines announced that the wave pool would be open this fall.

We’ve heard this before. I’m skeptical. But now it’s coming from someone with real credibility. I have to wonder how much it will cost. Nothing in the middle of Texas costs as much as anything in North Jersey. But it seems more realistic than Kelly’s wave, for sure. I’ll keep you posted.

And New Jersey may not be flat for weeks on end anymore.

HARVEY CEDARS SEES THE LIGHT: In some good municipal news to start the summer, the borough of Harvey Cedars has approved surfing outside of the flags and as waverers, we are grateful.

For those new to the situation, most Island towns used to have a designated surf beach or beaches as the only spot(s) you could surf during lifeguarded hours. Hudson Avenue is one of the oldest surf beaches in all of New Jersey.

Ship Bottom and Barnegat Light were the first towns to amend this and let surfers ride anywhere outside the swimming area. Next came Long Beach Township, Beach Haven and even Surf City in 2017.

A few Harvey Cedars homeowners brought this to the attention of the town. Most simply wanted to surf their own street with their families between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. They started a petition two years ago that garnered 3,000 signatures.

There was a good deal of support for it among the community, including parents and grandparents who mentioned it was more dangerous for their kids to ride bikes on that skinny little boulevard shoulder to surf Hudson Avenue than to surf outside the flags.

Last year was a trial period and since surfing outside the flags didn’t cause any major social upheaval, drug epidemics or economic meltdowns, the town decided it would be OK as a permanent thing. Harvey Cedars has had its hands full with some other issues this year, but surfing has had nothing to do with any of that.

There may be some modifications during the season due to the influx of swimmers at beaches in the neighborhood of the Harvey Cedars Bible Conference, but that’s more than fair.

And while it’s easy for me to make jokes about LBI official decisions, they do a great job. Police Chief Rob Burnaford is about as good a guy as you’re going to find and has changed the surfer/police relationship 180 degrees from when a lot of us were coming up. I would suggest to surfers not to take advantage of this new freedom. Be respectful and keep an eye out for swimmers in distress after the guards go off duty.

As a surfer, be an asset, not a liability.

SURF CITY AND THE WAR ON FUN: Ten years ago, LBI was really uptight.

On a scale of one to 10, one being the lake everyone swam naked in at Woodstock, 10 being a Russian work camp, LBI was closing in on a six. Surf City was campaigning to get a solid seven rating. They had so many activities forbidden that the signs coming over the beach could barely fit them all. The council only voted down the motion for bigger signs because it would have raised taxes.

But times changed. Sandy hit. The old guard gave in to some new ideas. And while you can have your debates about development and conflicts of political interest, there’s no doubt that the Island experience is a lot more fun for most people. We have beach events, musicians on every corner in the summer and a generally better spirit of community. Even behind the iron curtain, Surf City decided to allow surfing outside the flags and finally lifted their ban on that most progressive of ideals – outside dining. Yes, it’s a virtual “Sand” Francisco between Ship Bottom and North Beach.

A lot of the good Island vibes have been created by gatherings, particularly pop-ups and people with acoustic guitars providing sweet sounds by which folks can eat cheese, look at art, have a drink and talk about the new bridge. I literally cannot count the number of good times I’ve had at Gallery 1603, Jen Bryceland’s “East,” the Surf City Farias, Firefly, the m.t. burton gallery, Solace Gallery, etc.

Well this week, the borough of Surf City sent the galleries an email outlining that the pop-up events are now a problem.

While the township administrator is working on this, essentially folks getting together to celebrate our existence on this barrier island is too much for the city of surf. Keep in mind, there has not been a single incident at any of these pop-ups. And from my experience, the galleries generally support one another, organizing events together and supporting each other’s pop-ups.

Apparently they have a problem with businesses partnering with non-like businesses. There’s an issue with galleries serving food. There’s an issue with food businesses having a non-food business selling wares for a day. Any amplified music is prohibited? How loud does my bud Ryan Zimmerman have to sing now? And serving alcohol to adults is apparently an issue now?

“All the gallery owners are artists. It’s not always about the money, but for our love of the community and quality of life. The galleries in Surf City have created an ‘arts district,’ which can be used in the borough’s master plan to attract residents and increase property values,” Matt Burton told me. “The exhibits and events are a contributing factor to Surf City being a creative destination. The amount of tourism is a huge boost to the local economy. We also provide content for national, state and local publications showcasing the best qualities of LBI, which is free advertising for our area. We, as gallery owners, see these events as gains for all businesses.”

To be fair to the municipality, there are rules on the books from the Dark Ages. And the town has always been pretty amicable about these events. I know first-hand because I went to the police department before one of these said gatherings of which I had some involvement just to be courteous, keep them aware of what was happening and ask if they had any guidelines. There was never a problem then and there has not been a problem. So I suspect there’s someone leaning on the town to put an end to the good times. We just don’t know who.

Let’s hope that the town finds a solution to this that doesn’t involve simply snipping off the fun. Because no one wants to go back to the old ways.

JULY RIDE: Last weekend was big all around. Between Farias celebrating 50 years and South End Surf ’N Paddle’s Shapefest, it was a nonstop party. Congrats to the Farias fam for keeping it alive for so long. And Ken Gallant said it was South End’s best Stokefest yet.

Welcome to 4th of July. Let’s get crazy.

There are events aplenty around LBI this week, but not many of the Liquid Lines nature. All of your favorite bars and organizations have fun stuff planned. Get out there and enjoy ’em along with some fireworks and slightly charred food off the grill.

The only news of timely importance is that the Jetty Coquina Jam registration is open and the event is July 28 with a no-wave date of Aug. 4. Now in its 11th year, this event has raised over $70,000 for David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation, which goes directly to families battling the disease. Sign up now, as it’s something everyone wants to be a part of.

In closing this week, I’ll say that some folks have told me to not write about politics. Hey, I hate it as much as anyone. But from rolling back rules against water pollution and denying climate change to executive orders rescinding national monuments and pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, this is not America’s brightest moment. The majority of Americans do not support this current nonsense.

But can we resist this administration and still love our country?

Damn right.

Wave that flag high this week. Sanity will prevail.

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