Liquid Lines

Halloween Hassles and a Spooky Nor’easter For LBI

When did these holidays become so involved? And what are the best strategies for an imperfect nor’easter?
By JON COEN | Oct 09, 2019
Photo by: Paul Boardman It’s a season of transition. Get ready for some stiff northeast winds and we’ll see what’s beyond that.

Long Beach Island — So is Chowderfest the new Labor Day or what? Seems like we had an extra month of summer and now things are finally slowing down. Who’s hosting the blinking lights party? I don’t expect to see my summertime neighbors down for a while, so I just cut all the flowers out of their gardens and put them in a vase in my kitchen. Hey, what do they need them for?

But I really love this time of year and especially the lead-up to Halloween. Or by this point, isn’t there some kind of clever word for the Halloween/Christmas mashup? Have you been to Home Depot lately? It’s such a seasonal mess, you don’t know what time of year it is.

It’s 80 degrees and humid with summer flowers exploding in the garden center. Then you have this huge, spooky Halloween section with 10-foot-high animated monsters for the yard, only to be outdone by the more obnoxious Yuletide display. Nothing like seeing your neighbor in his shorts and slaps, pricing out an inflatable Nativity scene.

And it’s not just in the Depot. I especially love that you can head out to a regional farm and celebrate an old fashioned fall-on-the-farm experience. Because I always remember farms having giant pumpkin bouncy houses, 4-foot vertical drop slides down piles of hay bales, huge orange and black ball pits and massive sculptures of evil witches stirring giant cauldrons … Actually, that last one hits a nerve in my psyche of something so terrifying from early childhood that I decided not to think about it until this week. Does anyone know if there was such a witch somewhere in New Jersey in the late ’70s? It might explain a lot.

And then we get to visit the absolute cutest animals in the world – pigs, calves and chickens that somehow won the barnyard lottery. These adorable creatures represent the .0003 percent of their species that don’t live the majority of their lives in an overcrowded wire cage eating grain and getting hormone shots. Don’t get me wrong, their lives will still end in an untimely slaughter, but the road to it is paradise compared to their cousins in agribusiness.

We carved pumpkins one night of the year. Now it’s a weeklong project (but admittedly, we missed out on baking the seeds all those years.) And what’s with the pumpkin chuckin’? This is clearly just socially acceptable Mischief Night. It’s adorable. But what I remember is the older kids smashing that jack-o-lantern in front of your house so you had to see the remains of your project when you walked to the bus in the morning.

Then there were the characters who pegged us with cartons of eggs while we were out trick or treating one year. When you’re picking out a costume, you never considered how fast you can run with that cape dragging behind you. In retrospect, we all should have been Bruce Jenner for Halloween that year. And the guy who spent all that time making that creative Rubik’s Cube costume couldn’t run at all. Poor kid had to just hunker down inside the cardboard box as it got shelled with 1980s-era genetically modified jumbo eggs.

And of course, there is the sugar. What I mostly remember about Halloween was the pillow case that we so gleefully filled with our eventual diabetes. But the sugar season seems so much longer these days, beginning at the start of October with the bulk size bags of little foiled chocolate bars and soon we will move on to candy corn and mini packs of M&Ms. Then it’s just a full seasonal sprint of pies and pumpkin ice cream until we graduate to December, when plates of cookies garnished with chocolate kisses in green plastic wrap seem to turn up everywhere.

Now, I’ll try to sound like the responsible parent here, but the truth is sugar is my vice, and it will be in my face for the next three months. I’m already thinking about that giant plastic pumpkin of Smarties and Swedish Fish. And I don’t care when other adults judge me for guzzling down a pack of Nerds. Go ahead and sip your Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino with whipped cream. No sugar there, right?

IT’S GONNA BLOW: Following a few hair-on-fire exciting weeks, there’s not a whole lot to report this week on the actual surf front. There has been no lack of surf and the water is still plenty warm, but the winds have been mostly junk to start October, as they were to end September.

In last week’s column we touched on Hurricane Lorenzo, which was an extremely powerful storm for being so far east in the Atlantic. For the weather nerds keeping score, Lorenzo smashed the Azores, which rarely get hit, with winds over 110 mph and passed Ireland as a formidable extratropical system.

For us, Lorenzo meant days and days of waves … just not very good waves. Since the glory of Hurricane Dorian at the start of September, 90 percent of our swell has been coming from far off, which rarely translates into good surf for us. On top of that, the winds have been pretty much a crap shoot, or just crap.

Last Wednesday was the peak of the Lorenzo swell, and LBI did not fare particularly well, with long period closeouts further marred by south winds.

When we get south winds, one option is to head to northern Ocean or Monmouth County. The slight jog in the New Jersey coastline makes southwest winds better to our north. On that same account, we fare better on northwest winds than those northern beaches. But interestingly, the last few weeks we’ve seen a few instances where LBI had a straight south wind and Monmouth County was fully west. It wasn’t just the same wind, different angle. It was, in short, us getting hosed while the surf was clean up there. Hopefully you had time to make that drive. It wasn’t huge or epic, but when the mercury hit 90 for the last time in 2019 (we assume), it was nice to get some clean waves.

The best surf we had was a short window on Friday morning.

Thursday saw onshore winds at a good clip. This was our first classic windswell of the fall, except that we still had some long-period swell from Lorenzo filtering in. That sets up something of an ideal situation for us, a nice combo swell of high-interval energy and short-period windswell to break up that energy. On Friday morning, the windswell at 6 seconds was the more dominant of the two, but the distant hurricane waves helped a bit. Best of all, we had our first northwest winds in some time. The only issue was a low tide right at daybreak, which stymied the first-light conditions. But the wait wasn’t long, and the incoming tide served up waist- to shoulder-high waves at the usual spots with crisp offshore winds. We had a few hours of decent, if a bit inconsistent, surf before the winds came fully north.

The weekend was mostly flat and then onshore, which is a bummer because the first weekend of October tends to be a pretty magical time to surf.

This week looks to give us a significant coastal low, which is the good news. The low doesn’t want to exit to our north, which is the bad news. That likely means no offshore winds and cleanup until possibly Sunday. Waiting for these longer-term blows to clean up rarely works out.

Some of the models are actually calling for sets reaching up to 10 feet as the swell peaks on Thursday and Friday. Legit 10-foot surf on LBI is scary and menacing. But since the ocean is still so warm, let’s look at our options.

Let’s face it, when we get into winter, northeast storm surf isn’t really anything we want to deal with. But when our surf temps are the same or just slightly lower than they were in the summer, it’s more inviting. There’s just something about being in the water in trunks (or more likely a light wetsuit, now that the air is cooling and the wind will be up) when there’s energy in the ocean.

This may be splitting hairs, but there’s something to be said for big northeast slop over big southeast slop. Waves on south winds are rarely rideable, and while giant surf and northeast winds gusting to 25 are no one’s idea of quality conditions, they can be rideable. When the ocean is warm and we’ve had garbage condition for a week straight, it’s not the worst thing to jump in for a few waves in northeast winds. I’ll occasionally get a ride a mile or so north, paddle out and drift home.

First off, you’re getting a good workout. Nothing gets you in surf shape like 38 duck dives in a row. Second of all, you can sometimes find a corner. Occasionally nor’easters have against-the-grain rights, and often there are rideable lefts. Either way, sometimes just making a few overhead drops and getting one turn is enough to get you through the week. Third, sometimes it’s just a rush to be out there when the surf is that big. It can get you acclimated for when the swell actually cleans up.

The other option is to travel. Atlantic City faces more south to help with the wind angle, and the steel structures help to create some kind of a line. Or you can keep driving south, where certain beaches in Cape May will likely be offshore, although much smaller than LBI.

THE LONG RANGE: As we enter into a transitional month, it’s always a good time to take a look at the long range forecast. Once we get through the nor’easter, we could have some clean surf next week. Hurricane season will also likely have a little life, and we can’t rule out more tropical swell. We just have to hope they stay marginally strong and swing close to our shore, rather than that long-distance horsecrap.

We saw a radical dip in temperature last week. On Wednesday, New Brunswick was reading 95 degrees. By Thursday, it was down to 55. If you’re a snow hunter, Sunday River, Maine, saw the white stuff blowing like crazy that night on the hill.

Temps will be mostly pleasant for the next few weeks if you like this time of year (and who doesn’t?). October and November look to be warmer than average with an average amount of frontal activity, which should equal some swells this month. Although long-range forecasts are more difficult to nail down, everything points to us being warmer than average right through the holidays. After that, things look to take a serious dive. We had a fairly mild El Niño winter last year, but those signals are no longer in place. It could be an icy one by January. Maybe plan accordingly.

STUFF ON THE HORIZON: Speaking of planning accordingly, this weekend could be a doozie. The LBI FLY kite festival is scheduled for this weekend, but a nor’easter could be a lot for kite flying. We’re looking at precipitation and winds upwards of 20 mph Friday and Saturday. This could also affect the Long Beach Township Oyster Shellebration at Bayview Park and the fireworks spectacular at Fantasy Island. Keep an eye on social media for details as the weekend unfolds.

There’s really not much happening in the way of surf events, but there are plenty of Halloween happenings planned for both kids and adults on the Island. I should also mention that Against Me!, a favorite band of the LBI surf crowd, will be playing Oct. 18 and 19 at Starland Ballroom in Sayerville.

In closing, this weekend may be a bit of a bummer, especially for those specifically involved with the events that are planned. But look at it this way: We had about 20 near-perfect weekends this season and very few full rainout days. So get yourself a good rain shell and go have some fun anyway.

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