Liquid Lines

Lost in the Woods, or Lack Thereof, Plus Wave Rundown, or Lack Thereof Also

Saying Goodbye to a Secret Woods on LBI
By JON COEN | Jun 05, 2019
Photo by: Jon Coen The ‘Ship Bottom Woods,’ several years ago in early spring. This rare Island wooded area has since been chopped down for homes.

Surf City — If there are two general places where we enjoy “the outdoors,” you might say they are the beach and the woods.

That’s what we love, isn’t it? Wide open sand and sea or beautifully wooded natural forests. We’re lucky in Southern Ocean County to have both. And those of us who really love living here spend a good amount of time in the Pine Barrens, on Barnegat Bay, on the beach and in the Atlantic Ocean. We love the natural freedom. We love that buffer from the world.

I’m from Forked River. We were always in the bush.

It’s hard to imagine my childhood without being out in the neighborhood woods. It gave us a feeling of freedom. It was our little buffer from the adult world. We grew up playing manhunt in the forests, building things and canoeing through the tributaries of Forked River.

We had a fort with a trapdoor, a zipline (way ahead of our time) and running water. There were stories of mythical skate ramps back in the woods.

We were just being kids, away from everything.

There was “The Pit” and “Dare Devil’s Ditch,” the latter of which featured a steep gravel bank that you’d drop down, get a scary amount of speed and hit a jump. Sure, there was a good chance you’d take a handlebar to the windpipe. But sailing off that dirt pile between those two pine trees and landing it …  that was the stuff legends were made of. Well, until someone discovered a stash of old nudie mags in another wooded lot. That was a day that lived in infamy.

Of course, there was that two-month period in second grade where I knocked out my front tooth, almost severed my thumb smashing glass bottles, fell onto a jagged tree stump that pierced my cheek, and stepped on a nail (pulled the 2x4 off my own foot). But that’s the price of freedom.

The woods gave us a little bit of escape from home. We felt like we were on our own. We created. (And destroyed.) We figured things out.

We hear people complaining all the time about “kids today” and all the time they spend on devices or indoors. But those kids aren’t the ones who’ve bulldozed millions of acres of Ocean County to build developments. How much exploring can they do around the McMansions off Beachview?

Now, once we started surfing, all we wanted to do was be at the beach. While we still spent some time in the Pines, our general life mission was to get to the Island. It was a new kind of natural freedom.

I moved to Surf City to be by the beach. And when it was time to buy a home, I found a neighborhood on the mainland surrounded by woods. So, when we first moved back to the Island, I was thrilled to discover a little patch of wild right in the middle of our sandbar. We called it the Ship Bottom Woods.

It was about four lots and stretched block to block. My dog loved it. And when I had my son, we were always taking walks through the little trails. He got his first lessons in environmentalism when we would clean the litter from the wooded area. We’d find the hideout forts that the neighborhood kids had built. One time someone hung dozens of glass Christmas ornaments all over. There were birds and woodland mammals. I even took some friends back there for a cool photoshoot on a snowy December evening.

What made it so special was that in my lifetime, LBI homeowners had all become allergic to any living thing and went to great lengths to destroy all manner of plant life from their investments. Trees are rare. Grass is endangered. Weeds don’t stand a chance against the guy who comes to spray chemicals on the stones twice a year.

The Ship Bottom Woods was so “woodsy” that you could be in the middle and not see out. You had no idea you were just a block from the bay and two blocks from the ocean. It was a little piece of natural world in the midst of our beloved, but overbuilt barrier Island. It was a wooded expanse that would rival anything in Barnegat Light, Holgate or Loveladies. My kid would always have the beach, but it was reassuring to know that there would be this little wooded patch of natural freedom for his formative years.

I don’t know who the builder or owners are. Of course, it was private property. Guess technically, we were trespassing.

I’m not sure if it was subdivided or if a builder decided to throw up a couple of spec homes but first a quarter of the property was cleared and then another half. It’s now one vinyl-sided home, one construction site, and a fully cleared lot.

All that’s left of the woods is a tiny patch of green.

And the owner had every right to do that. I am well aware that all of us live in homes that were once wooded areas.

I know this is a lot of droning over a few trees, but someone could have literally built the coolest raised cottage set back in the woods. Instead, almost every trace of vegetation on the buildable lots was taken down.

The finished house and the one under construction reach up to the maximum height restriction and take up the full allowance of buildable property. There’s a white vinyl fence around one property. Almost the entire front of the completed project is pavers. There doesn’t seem to be any pervious surface aside from a small garden. But the best part, and this is classic, is the row of Leyland cypresses that were planted along the back border, right where the woods had been the most wild … to give the backyard that little feeling of natural freedom.

WAVES? WHAT WAVES?: Not the best week if you’re a wave rider.

I’m sure that somewhere between the farthest reaches of the Forsythe Refuge in Holgate and Barnegat Inlet, someone had a respectable wave on a shortboard since my last column. But I certainly didn’t see or hear about it.

It’s possible that the consistent swell we had for Memorial Day weekend left some of us thinking that it would set the tone for a whole summer of solid surf, but that was not the case for the week following the big holiday.

I saw the tiniest of lines on Saturday and heard of a few people who went out on a longboard, but the key to the day was more the light winds, beautiful weather and clean conditions.

Things look better for this week, especially Thursday. The front that was swinging through on Wednesday should produce something of a wave, possibly a bit bigger than anything we’ve had the past few weeks (which isn’t saying much, but it’s something).

What is somewhat big news is that the ocean water made a pretty substantial jump last week. There was actually a little climb throughout Memorial Day weekend and then some east and northeast winds have helped to bring in that warmer blue.

FREEDOM GAS. (SERIOUSLY, FREEDOM GAS): As someone who writes about surfing and coastal activities, it’s my job to cover the health of the ocean. And that means covering the health of the environment, which is related to government policy and therefore fuel and energy.

I also take the responsibility to make you chuckle from time to time. Who knew the federal government could make my job so easy?

This week, while discussing expanded liquified natural gas exports out of Texas, U.S. Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes, stated (he actually stated), “Increasing export capacity from the Freeport LNG project is critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world.”

Freedom gas?

But wait. There’s more. Clearly this is a very Trump heavy department. Menezes also stated (again, he actually said this), “With the U.S. in another year of record-setting natural gas production, I am pleased that the Department of Energy is doing what it can to promote an efficient regulatory system that allows for molecules of U.S. freedom to be exported to the world.”

Molecules of U.S. freedom?

Just to be clear, we’re at a point in history where the actual scientists are advising that humans need to curb our fossil fuel emissions. Burning LNG and other fuels have gotten us in trouble and the effects will keep getting worse. It’s not that they “might” get worse. They will. And therefore, especially as a world superpower, we’re questioning our relationship with fossil fuels.

So anytime there’s a question of policy vs. responsibility, this administration makes it a question of patriotism. Hence, “freedom gas.” And about 40 percent of America in 2019 will wave flags and cheer for molecules of freedom.

According to one former Fox host, lobbyist and manager of the Trump campaign, the 45th president’s average dinner is two Big Macs, two Filet-O-Fish sandwiches and a small chocolate shake. Sometimes he prefers KFC or Burger King, but it’s the same general menu.

I’m just sayin’ … if ever there were a way to tap some freedom gas.

HOPPING GOOD START: South End Surf ’N Paddle held another successful Hop Sauce Tune Up Race Saturday morning with some 30 paddlers raising money for Alliance for a Living Ocean. This year, Kenny Balcerski took the Long Course among the 14’ SUP and Carly Scallon won the Long Course Women’s. It should be noted that 14-year-old Emma Engle won the Long Course for the younger division but would have easily placed with the adults. Hugh Shields of Barnegat Light finished first among the younger paddlers in the Prone Division and Russel Hill won the older. Ed Olson and Jill Denyes took the Short Course honors for the Men’s and Women’s 12’6 class. Don Finn and Linda Hemmer aced the Long Course for the 12’6 class. Ed Hansch and Shana Gaskill won the Short Course Surf style and Zeke Hill walked with the Prone Short Course victory.

WHAT’S UP NEXT: This weekend is the Lighthouse International Film Festival and there are a bunch of interesting surf flicks on the schedule this year. See the full article in this issue.

I’ve been mentioning this next event a lot and for good reason. It’s all about honoring New Jersey’s first surfer and an all-around LBI Legend. Richard Lisiewski, who passed last winter at the age of 90. He was New Jersey’s first surfer, shaper and founder of Brant Beach/Brighton Beach Surf Shop here on the Island. Richard was a member of both the New Jersey and East Coast surfing halls of fame.

On June 15, Brighton Beach Surf Shop will host its annual Board Swap from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Then at 4:30, Michael Lisiewski will hold the Memorial Paddle Out for Richard. This is open to anyone who would like to pay their respects to the way that Richard paved for so many.

Beyond that, many surfers might be excited to know that Chris DeMakes of the Florida punk/ska band Less than Jake will be at Bird & Betty’s in Beach Haven on June 27.

Shapefest returns to South End Surf ’N’Paddle on June 29 this year. This celebration of board building and music will run from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., so bring an energy drink.

In closing this week, I want to refer back to a column that I wrote at the start of April. It was a few weeks into “spring,” that time of year that everyone here gets super bummed that the weather isn’t suddenly sunny and 70s. My column was just a jab at our mindset, and how what we were really yearning for is early June.

Well, it’s here, finally. I think the monsoon season and nights in the 30s are long past us. The supermarket is full of fresh harvest from regional farms. Color has returned to our faces. The sun is up early enough to get a full three hours on the beach before work and it sets late enough for three hours after. We’re getting softshell crabs and buckets of blues. Going out for ice cream has become the standard fourth meal of the day. And now, the ocean is even warming.

We have about a month until the full push of summer. Get out there and enjoy it.

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