Liquid Lines

Missing Waves and Missing Friends; Plus A Potential Tropical Storm and the Meat of Summer Events

Potential tropical system in the Gulf could bring waves to a starved coast
By JON COEN | Jul 10, 2019
Photo by: Paul Boardman It gets kinda lonely when there are no waves to bring us together.

Surf City — I’ve decided that I miss my friends. Yes, even on a 4th of July with the humanity at 100 percent on this skinny Island, I felt a bit lonely.

When you surf, you find many of your friendships become based on surfing. Sometimes the more we surf with someone, the better friends we become. Unfortunately, I’ve also experienced relationships that fall off when one person stops surfing.

But either way, when the ocean decides to just lie down like a big dog in the summer heat, with little more motion than exhausted panting for weeks at a time, we can get a little lonesome. Of course, we could see everyone whipping around the bay and pounding drinks through the long weekend on social media, but it’s just not the same.

And New Jersey has been hurting for waves. This weekend we will be one full month since the surf heights have crept over the 2-foot mark. And in that time, the 2-foot days have been few and far between.

But back to lonesome.

Oh, there have been plenty of folks around. In fact, that five-day madhouse known as 4th of July weekend saw every type up on the beach. I saw the guy practicing early morning tai-chi. There was some idiot who almost sent his canoe up in flames with fireworks. There was the one woman who spread out enough chairs in a semi-circle at 9 a.m. to ensure every living member of her extended family, and a few dead ones, would all have a place to sit all day by the waterline. There was the “I don’t care if smoking is illegal on the beach guy” who smoked ’em down while the tide took his bait and tackle wrappers into the ocean.

I saw the requisite couple frolicking into the surf outside the flags, so passionately focused on each other that they didn’t hear the lifeguard blowing the whistle 300 times. There was the family that erected not only a 20- by 20-foot branded tent in the sand, but also put out supersized branding flags advertising their financial services. And there’s the guy who takes pictures of it all to start up riveting conversations on local community Facebook groups.

Yes, they were all here this weekend, including the surfcasters, the Spike Ballers, the sand castle builders, the SUP’ers and the kayakers (have to say I didn’t think there were that many people who still ’yakked) all doing what they do best and generally having a good ol’ LBI fun time.

But I didn’t really see my surf buds because the waves were mostly junk. And I am legitimately starting to miss them.

For those who don’t spend hours and hours sitting just beyond the sandbar, that’s some quality time out there. It’s where I’ve met an awful lot of my friends, and it’s where we like to catch up, even in the winter when you can’t hear through that 5 mil hood, nor talk with numb lips. But we manage. Sometimes the only time I see people is out in the water.

The old longboarders sit out there and talk about the old days and what they mix in with their Cream of Wheat in the mornings. The young guys talk about Sims 4 and Pot Gummies … Actually, I’m not totally sure what they talk about, to be honest. I don’t see too many of them surfing anymore. But we haven’t had waves in so long that I just haven’t had those conversations with my friends out in the water, and it’s starting to get to me.

I miss talking about 360s and far-off storms with Chris Huch. I miss grumbling about stuff with Jack Ryan until he gets a perfect peeler and comes back with a giant smile on his face. I miss talking about the last great punk show I saw with Chris Scarpinato. I miss doing old Adam Sandler bits with Dave Werner. I miss Mike Carvajal breaking down mortgage rates. I miss talking parenthood with Bill McLennan, fishing with Greg Cudnik, environmental issues with Kyle Gronostajski and board design with Paul Boardman. Jeremy DeFilippis has been out of the water for a year with an injury, and I miss talking to him about parmigiana. I miss tugging on Joe Medica’s leash and making him stumble forward on his SUP. I miss looking at Pete Machotka when some giant non-mammal animal breaches out of the water just far enough away to only imagine what it was. And I miss talking about the funniest, most insane things with Ron Ferrara.

WHAT? ACTUAL WAVES?:This is the part of the column where I usually write about the waves we’ve been getting. It’s been rather truncated the last few weeks. Lean times. I almost can’t believe it, but all I have to write about are some waves we didn’t get.

As of last week, the forecasts were pointing at Sunday morning being pretty good for surf and a few windswell bumps early in the week. Now, I don’t mean December-head-high-peeling-south-swell-good, but considering we have not seen a stomach-high wave since the middle of June, the prospects of clean 2- to 3-foot waves breaking sounded nice – really nice.

The wind forecast was light offshore. Low was at 6 a.m., which meant shallow to incoming tide all morning. And chances were that after five days of either binge drinking cold cans of Paloma or working 15-hour shifts, not everyone would be on the early sesh. All in all, it was worth making the plan to get up early and get in the water.

Saturday brought one of those classic summer thunderstorms and turned the Island into a gridlocked panic before turning the Boulevard into a river. The wind went offshore for a minute and then south again, hopefully building swell.

But when the Sunday morning forecast came out on Saturday evening, the swell had been downgraded from 2- to 3-foot to 1- to 2-foot.

That’s a pretty significant difference. It’s tough to set your alarm for 5:30 a.m. when the best wave you’re going to get is thigh high. But hey, beggars can’t be choosers, right? If someone hands you a Gatorade in the desert, you don’t complain that it’s Fierce and not Frost.

I got a text before my alarm even went off.

“Paddling now. 1-foot.”

2- to 3-foot downgraded to 1- to 2-foot, now a foot. Whatever.

I grabbed my longboard and biked up. Yep, it was a foot. It was pretty and peeling and ultra clean, but it was still 1-foot. And to add insult to injury, the water was freezing cold. And just to make the morning complete, the wind came onshore before 9 a.m.

Normally, it would have been kind of an average summer morning, maybe a day you just jump in to get wet. But that was the damn highlight of our whole week. There was some hope that onshore wind would blow up some peaky stomach-high chop, but Monday morning was light onshore tiny dribble. Like I said, lean times.

I do think things will get better, however. I mean, it can’t get any worse, right? The pretty fantastic weather we’ve had may come to an end, though, as we have a frontal boundary just kind of hanging through the mid-Atlantic with weak low pressure systems passing through. This won’t bring us any kind of fantastic surf, but it will shake up the ocean enough for little waves. We also have the benefit of two low tides this week, which tends to treat us better for a morning and/or evening surf.

Strangely enough, we’re looking to Kentucky for our waves. The thing to watch this week will be what happens with that low that literally came out of Appalachia into the Gulf of Mexico. There isn’t a whole lot we can predict on this one, but it does have the potential to develop into a tropical system and perhaps the Atlantic’s second named tropical storm of the season. And to be honest, it was tough to get any good information on developments over the weekend as the weather world was focused on the record-breaking heat in Alaska.

We’re still a few weeks away from the meat of hurricane season, and right now conditions out over the Atlantic Basin are nowhere near what they need to be for storm formation. There are definitely some warmer than average sea surface temps out there, but everything else is working against any kind of Cape Verde storm formation. And that’s pretty much what we expected this year, especially for July. But storms closer to home, the ones that form around the Gulf, are the ones that can pop up this time of year. Florida was scorching in June, and the waters in the armpit of the Panhandle are already boiling. Fortunately these locally formed storms don’t tend to be too dangerous outside of heavy rains.

I’m sure in the time it takes for The SandPaper to be printed and delivered, we will know more about this, but as of now, I wouldn’t say we’re getting any kind of epic hurricane swell. I almost think we could just see a disorganized tropical mess move up the East Coast with the center of low pressure over land most of the time. Perhaps at best we get a south/southwest windswell with a little more juice than we’ve been seeing. If that happens, we have to hope the storm takes a northeasterly track out of here because if it rides up inland into New England, all we get is southwest winds and freezing water. We can’t speculate too much about a storm that hasn’t formed yet, but at this point we need it to deliver us from this summer flatspell evil.

SURFING OUTSIDE THE FLAGS: Well, I never thought I would see the day. All of Long Beach Island is now open to surfing outside the flags during lifeguarded hours. It took some work. It took some organizing, letter writing, showing up at town meetings and petitions, but it’s now a reality.

Surf City gave the green light back in 2017, and Harvey Cedars adopted the policy last week. I want to commend all the people who worked so hard for it in each town and the elected officials who agreed that it maximizes fun while avoiding the dangers of packing all the surfers into one block.

I might add there are some potential economic gains to this as well. I know that families in the tri-state area return to the same beach towns they are used to like penguins to breeding grounds, but let’s say you’re a parent who surfs, and now your kids are surfing. You have the choice between Ocean City, where you can schlep to one of three designated surf areas with 927 Philly pholks, or you can rent a place on LBI, where you can surf the end of your street with your family and maybe one or two more waveriders. I’m just sayin’.

Remember that this is a privilege. If the town says you need a badge to surf, buy a badge. When the lifeguards direct you away from the swimming area, paddle away from the swimming area. Don’t be loud in the street or park illegally. Just be a normal person, and this should work out just fine for everyone.

OH, SO HAPPENING: It’s funny how we can have virtually no events happen for weeks at a time and then it all happens at once. That’s the nature of a season that seems to get shorter every year.

On Wednesday night, one of the most respected surfboard builders in the country will stop by Farias Surf in Ship Bottom at 5 p.m. It’s a chance to meet Robert Wiener of Roberts Surfboards out of Ventura and talk design. These are cool events where some of the industry leaders get to see our little slice of surfing life and you can talk design with them.

This Saturday will split the water folk crowd as the Catch Surf Get Wet Tour comes through the Surf City Farias location for a promo party that starts at 4 p.m., and then the Expression Session that goes off at 6 p.m. on the Fifth Street beach. This one is more based on fun than competition for all ages, but they do tend to have some great giveaways.

Or if paddling is more your thing, South-End Surf ’N Paddle will host the seventh annual LBI Paddle Classic at Bayview Park in Brant Beach. Registration starts at 5 p.m. Open to prone and SUP paddlers of all abilities, it features a long and a short course. The entry fee is $40 and includes a T-shirt. Proceeds benefit Alliance for A Living Ocean. If you’ve been messing around on a SUP this early summer and are curious, this is a fantastic event to try. Maybe you’ll be inspired to try some of the longer races later in the season. And of course for lifeguards, the prone is a great warm-up for the season of events.

It’s also time to start prepping and registering for the Coquina Jam, Jetty’s 11th annual all-female team-format surf contest on July 28. The field has been expanded this year to grow the event in the name of supporting more female cancer patients through David’s Dream and Believe Cancer Foundation. This year, each “bracket” of teams will start competing even before the competition begins, by raising donations in advance of the contest. Those donations will be matched by the Wright Law Firm, Tide Table Group, Farias Surf and Sport and Fantasy Island.

Jetty will hold a pre-event BBQ at the flagship store in Manahawkin on July 18 with food, drinks and music, which serves not only to meet your partner, but also to raise awareness for the new fundraising push.

The contest is at 68th Street, featuring food, beer, cultural sponsors, and live music in addition to the competition itself, and all are invited to take part. Aug. 4 is the no-wave date. And let’s be clear, there is no other surf community on the East Coast that does anything like this. I also can’t think of anyone whose family hasn’t been directly affected by cancer, so get involved.

And on that topic, the Union Market in Tuckerton will host Fun(d) The Dream on July 20, featuring a tremendous menu by Chef Kyle Baddorf. This event may not have a huge surf tie, but it is presented by WeatherNJ, and that’s something we cover a lot on Liquid Lines, in addition to good people who do good things.

So let’s enjoy the relative post-4th quiet this week. Let’s surf outside the flags and have a great paddle race on Saturday. Maybe someday we’ll have waves and I will see my friends again… just not all at once.

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