Liquid Lines

Is It Spring We Yearn for or Actually the Season Beyond?

Thinking Early Summer, One Bombing Swell, the Start of the WSL Season and Polar Paddle Results
By JON COEN | Apr 03, 2019
Photo by: Bill Machotka Spring looks a lot like winter around here. Greg Warren has a summertime attitude either way.

Overall I like to surround myself with positive people. I prefer those who see the glass as half full of lemonade.

But I’m also a realist. I’m not going to say the glass is half full if you just smashed it on the floor. Now there’s sticky lemonade everywhere and we have to worry about stepping on glass with bare feet.

Hence when folks start talking about the changing seasons on LBI, I can hear echoes that sound like the Ebenezer Scrooge of springtime.

“If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘springtime’ on his lips should be reclined on a lounge chair on the first warm morning and be made to lie there as the onshore wind comes up and the cold fog rolls in, listening to weather reports with a chance of flurries and buried with a glob of sunscreen through his heart.”

In this adaptation of the Dickens classic, he is then visited by three ghosts, all in shorts and sandals. They try to show him the error of his ways but wind up buying leftover sweatshirts from last fall and meeting up by the fireplace at the Port Hole. (Everywhere else was still closed … it was a Wednesday in April.)

Because when people start to point to crocuses and notice shrink wrap coming off boats, they’re not yearning for an extended period of late winter. They’re not pining for the sixth consecutive month of tugging on the hooded wetsuit, boots and gloves. They’re not aching for 33 out of 40 days of rain. They’re not craving gray marshes, leafless trees, cloudy skies and brown grass. They’re not obsessing over wearing those worn-out boots or Carhartt jacket to work each morning.

What these folks are really hungering for is summer, or at least the beginning of it – the period after the water warms up enough to not ice out the Island, but before you have to plan your day around the Ship Bottom circle traffic. I’m talking Hudson House, riding the shuttle and new trunks.

And of course, there’s always a fun swell in there, the magic of early summer waves without a neoprene straight jacket.

Our moods are very much affected by the weather, and if fewer layers have you in a good mood, that’s awesome. But when folks get excited for spring, what they truly desire is the sun rising at 5:30 a.m., heading up to the beach for a surf, a paddle, a run or just some quality sand time. And then returning to check on the progression of the flowers on the tomato plants before a warm outside shower followed by breakfast – either at a local joint with outdoor seating (we heard even Surf City has stepped out of the Dark Ages on that one) or just the back deck.

It’s the time of year right before many locals have to go full bore into crazy schedules. There’s plenty of work to be done with the start of the season, but with the fading twilight around 9 p.m., there’s plenty of time for more fun after. And possibly ice cream.

And I’ll admit, I’ve spent the last few weeks a little closer to the equator – warm water, fun waves, long days outside with my kid and fresh seafood – that have me thinking of that magical period from late May through the start of July on LBI.

Before I left, Down the Shore Publishing’s Ray Fisk gave me a copy of Tales from an Endless Summer, by Bruce Novotny. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I’ve never read it. The summer setting is before my time, but I’ve picked up a few certain points in the book that I recognize. And some timeless aspects of our salty existence are the same as when I was the age of the main character, or even today. The description of groms sitting outside the 7-11 after a session was particularly nostalgic.

But reading about the fleeting season on LBI has only multiplied thoughts of beautiful June. We’re not longing for spring. We’re longing for what lies just beyond it. And it’s got me yearning for riding a quirky singlefin, the smell of fresh-cut grass and a pile of steamed crabs and clams on the picnic table.

ONE BOMBING MORNING: Well, for those who have been complaining that this winter was “the worst ever,” we just had two weeks of mostly no surf with one morning of bombing waves. I guess that’s what those guys have been waiting for.

The one event was a doozy, going back to Friday, March 22. It was an east-southeast swell that was 4- to 6-foot with some even bigger sets. The chargers said it was the first day in months that got their blood pumping. And it could certainly do that to you.

Just to keep those boys happy, everything about that swell was extreme including a massive full moon and morning high tide that flooded many spots out. Cedars got some love, but the real action was even farther north where the crew had a morning of dramatic, draining tubes.

And just to keep the “real winter” theme going, the passing front was accompanied by 30 mph offshore winds. Also keeping with that theme, the surf was down to waist high by the evening session. And just to be sure, it then went flat for a week.

The only other waves we’ve had worth mentioning was a long period swell last Thursday. The tide was too low early, but the surf got really fun, about chest to shoulder high for a short window from 10 a.m. to noon. Then the south wind got on it. Really short window indicative of this time of year.

The last bit of swell we had came on Sunday. That latest south swell didn’t look so good in the morning, but the wind came around during the day, leaving for some decent shoulder-high lines again. This got fun and rippable in the afternoon, much like many days this winter. I’m going to say it’s been a very fun year so far.

Speaking of this time of year, we’re watching the painfully slow process of the water temp rebounding. It’s currently about 45 degrees. As a rule, you can figure the ocean temp goes up about two degrees per week, or more accurately, a net gain of 8 degrees per month. That means we should hit 50 by mid- to late April, if all goes well. Overall, we are supposed to see higher than average air temps this month, which may help. That could also mean warmer days inland and actually more wind and a cooler Island.

It’s also not unheard of for the ocean temp to drop a few this time of year. We’re still going to be in that winter gear for a bit.

We should have some swell today as The SandPaper comes out and a potentially bigger system impacting us this weekend. Long term, there’s no reason to think April shouldn’t be a decent month of surf, as it usually is. But super long term, it does seem that an El Niño is settling in. Depending on how strong it is, we could see tamped down activity this tropical season. The earliest long-term forecasts come out in the next few weeks, so more on this to come.

SEASON PREMIER: All eyes in the surf world will be on Australia this week as the WSL Championship Tour kicks off on the Gold Coast.

Normally pro surfing doesn’t play a lot into Liquid Lines. But I do feel I should be writing about the start of the 2019 season because Kelly Slater has announced it will be his last. And way back when, he grew up on the East Coast.

To give you an idea of Kelly’s run of dominance, the surfers that are 10 years younger and came a full generation after Kelly, including title winners Mick Fanning (three titles) and Joel Parkinson, have both already retired in their late 30s. Slater turned 47 earlier this year.

There was a time in surfing when careers lasted until 30. Late 30s were old men. Slater still surfs at such an incredible level.

The GOAT was injured for most of 2017 (which didn’t stop him from riding maybe the best wave ever in New Jersey) and only surfed three events in 2018. It’s also worth mentioning that after winning his first six titles, he retired in 1998 before coming back for another five freaking world titles.

It’s been over 20 years since he “retired” and the following years of his career alone were still more successful than any other surfer in history. In those years, he teased us with the idea of quitting again, making it a guessing game year in and year out. He has struggled with results the past few seasons but not relevance. Slater has single-handedly changed surfing time and time again.

Saying you’re retiring at age 38 or 40 is one thing, but saying this is your last season at age 47 has some gravity. The crazy thing is that if he’s healthy, he can literally still hang. He also comes in ranked No. 34, which means he will have the toughest draws at each contest. And that makes this a very interesting season to watch.

Gabi Medina comes in ranked No. 1, one of three Brazilians in the top five. Julian Wilson has never won a title, is ranked No 2, and hungry as hell. And everyone’s favorite, John John Florence, is No. 13. Let’s see what Snapper has for the boys.

POLAR PADDLE RESULTS: South End Surf ’N Paddle had its third annual Polar Paddle on Saturday and it was a tremendous success. The event had to be postponed from February because the bay was frozen.

“The race saw a great turnout. There were probably 50 racers and 50 spectators. We had a great after party at the shop and raised some bucks for ALO as well,” said shop owner and event director Ken Gallant.

The wind came up and blew hard south, which presented an extra challenge in addition to the cold and wetsuit.

In the Long Course, Kenny Balcerski took the win and Michael Jacobus got second. The fastest among the women was Carly Scallon. Michael Pannallulli won the men’s and Ali Hannah the women’s Short Course, respectively. Ryan Mathews came down from Monmouth County to ace the Prone Long Course and Russell Hill won the short.

This one really test a paddler’s mettle. Just completing the race is an accomplishment.

APRIL HAPS: Good news for the watersport enthusiast who loves Island Surf and Sail. After the insanely long process of raising and renovating the shop, it should be back open for business this month. Expect a soft opening, but go in and show them some love.

Events might pick up from a slow drip to a steady trickle with the start of April. South End Surf ’N Paddle will host a screening of “Kissed by God,” the Andy Irons story, at the shop this Saturday night.

They showed this amazing film, which highlights the life and death of Andy Irons, but also his bipolar disorder, addiction and the opioid crisis in general, last fall. It was an offseason event for the Lighthouse International Film Festival which they sold out. This Saturday they will show it again, starting at 7. Tickets are $5 and will again benefit the film fest.

Alliance for a Living Ocean will take part in the Clean Ocean Action spring beach sweeps on April 13 if you’re looking to do your part. They start at 9 a.m.

I know this is a little out of the sphere of my usual watersports beat, but a growing number of surfers are becoming more interested in yoga and eating clean. The Mainland will sponsor a Health & Wellness Expo on Thursday, April 18 from 6 to 9 p.m. that will include wellness practitioners, yoga studios, health foods and other pro natural health businesses.

If you’ve been keeping in shape this season, you might be interested in the Paws for a Cause 5K Race and Fun Run on April 27, presented by Live with Purpose and Jetty. You’re encouraged to run with your pet. This fundraiser race will benefit community members in need of a service dog. Get out and stretch. The afterparty is at the Old Causeway immediately following the race.

The next paddle of the season will be the Hop Sauce Tune Up, also sponsored by South End Surf ’N Paddle, on Saturday, June 1.

And speaking of Hop Sauce Fest, the lineup has been released and it includes RFA, Pine Barons, Black Flamingos, and Mercy Union. Mercy Union is currently on tour with Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers, so if you’re a fan of LJG or Against Me!, maybe check them out. As usual, the day will also feature dozens of craft beers, hot sauce and the best food from the Island’s most fun eateries.

And despite my general malaise for all things springtime on LBI, it’s probably safe to start thinking springlike thoughts. Cue the spring sports and boardshort reviews for shorts we can’t wear for another 90 days. Mid-April does tend to see the actual end of winter. And if we can get to the return of color in May, then we’re good to go.

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