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Our New Unofficial Slogan, ‘Never a Dull Moment,’ as Week Presents Highs and Lows

Last Week’s Storm and Clear-Out So Perfectly LBI
By JON COEN | Oct 16, 2019
Photo by: Joe Marzullo Saturday was big and heavy in Surf City. Rob Kelly made it look easy.

There are several slogans that LBI has used over the years.

For the longest time, we were associated with the term “Six Miles at Sea.” It was a term that was used on LBI going back to Beach Haven’s Victorian times. The great historian John Bailey Lloyd used it in the title of one of his books on LBI history and as the title of his 1998 historical film. Then it was used on the well-known billboard in front of Southern Regional.

We never understood the reference. LBI is 18 miles from Holgate to Barnegat Light. Add in the Forsythe refuge and it’s 20. Even going back a few centuries and LBI has never been 6 miles long.

Perhaps, as some suggest, it’s a reference to the distance from LBI to the mainland. But if you look at a map, most of the Island is about 2 to 3 miles from any point in Waretown, Barnegat, Stafford, Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor. Even a boat ride from Route 9 in downtown Clam Town (Tuckerton), out Tuckerton Creek and across the Bay to Dock Road in Beach Haven is only about 5 miles. But I haven’t done enough research to say that it doesn’t make sense myself.

More recently, the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce has been using the hashtag #beachcultureredefined. This is a reference to the fact that while LBI’s beaches are among the nicest in the state, we’re so much more than that. In the last few years, our little sandbar has become increasingly popular with travelers from different origins and everyone seems to want a piece of the Island post-Sandy. The hashtag is, at its core, a marketing strategy that tells the story of our experience beyond the beach – the art, restaurants, community, breweries, theater and original music (OK, we’re working on that one). It’s been very effective. In fact, the chamber’s Surf and Sip Brew Trail, which features surf shops, microbrews and art studios, received an award at the state level.

Then, of course, we all refer to “life on a sandbar.” There’s Neptune Market’s famous sign that kind of encompasses LBI, reading “Enter as Strangers; Leave as Friends,” and countless other slogans that we rallied behind after Sandy.

OK, so what does all this motto talk have to do with anything? Where the hell are you going with this Coen?!

I have no problem with these or any of the other mottos, but I might suggest we streamline once and for all. Let’s start with a huge sign in the median as you arrive on LBI that simply reads, “Long Beach Island … Never a Dull Moment.”

I’m sure I’m not the only one to whom this occurred after the last week we’ve had – a week so full of highs and lows, weather both perfect and destructive, and every feel you can possibly feel when you choose an existence on a glorified sandbar.

Just look at the drama of summer, the great experience of 200,000 people sharing a tiny strip of land. Contrast that with the stark winter and the freezing winds and water. Think of the do-or-die of making enough money in the summer to survive the long off-season.

When the proverbial s**t hits the fan is when things go absolutely wild around here. Think of the levels of pure joy felt this weekend. Think of the excited look on each kid’s face at the LBI FLY Kite Fest. Picture the pure joy surfers were feeling, dropping into those bowling lefts. And I don’t just mean the sponsored guys, getting spit out of massively heavy tubes on Saturday. I’m also referring to the everyday surfers and weekend warriors who simply felt all that energy as they glided southward in Sunday’s energy.

Then think about the despair that home and business owners experienced as the flood waters broke the sandbags and came flooding into the buildings on Friday and Saturday. Imagine the anxiety of wondering when those waters would recede and exactly how high it was coming. Even picture yourself training all summer for the 18-mile run only to have it canceled because of the threat of stormwater. (And you can second guess that decision as much as you want. You should have seen how bad the Queen City was still flooding on Saturday night’s high tide.)

Then there were the folks who showed up in the parking lot of the Wooden Jetty before the sun came up on Sunday. Some were anticipating the surf. Others were doing an 18-mile run whether it was canceled or not. Compare that to the relief that the kite flyers/organizers must have felt when the winds receded from their 40-knot gusts and Saturday, Sunday and Monday wound up being stellar October weather. What about the monarchs on the goldenrod? Or how about the feeling of closure on a season when the last bursts of the Fantasy Island fireworks spectacular’s grand finale closed out the official event shoulder season?

The truth is life here is so extreme that when all is calm, that’s exciting in itself. All we could talk about recently was how perfect September was with swell, gorgeously warm weather and little to no rain or storms. Then it’s all about the threat of the impending storm and either then the weird ying and yang of how much happiness it caused or the gratitude that it spared us a weekend or an event.

Good or bad, there is simply no down time. And last week had all the ups and downs of the “Hang Ten” rollercoaster ride.

WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL JUST HAPPENED?: Most of us knew we were getting a nor’easter. I don’t think anyone really anticipated what we got.

In weather terms, this was a meteorological mouthful, a truly interesting scenario with a full coastal nor’easter joining forces with a non-tropical low. When the two met, they were classified as “Subtropical” Storm Melissa, our 13th named storm of the year.

Melissa gave us some pretty major flooding. Some folks are comparing it to the Halloween Storm of 1991, aka, the “Perfect Storm,” and there were certainly some statistical similarities and anecdotal similarities. I’m calling it a lot like nor’Ida back in ’09.

The waters off our coast are still warm, down only a few degrees from August. And the storm was over the Gulf Stream, which is even warmer. Overall, sea surface temp readings were about five degrees warmer than an average year. The hallmark of this weather event was the interaction with high pressure to our north. You see, low pressure systems aren’t all that severe unless there’s high pressure to tangle with. Look at it this way, the early ’90s Chicago Bulls were a force, but the most exciting they were to watch was against the Pistons, Knicks and Lakers, right? (Sports analogies are always an easy explanation.) The pressure gradient is what ups the wind, which essentially drives the fetch, the waves, the storm surge and coastal flooding. The strongest elements of the storm were pointed directly at the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

Winds reached a peak of 65 mph in the eye of the storm. That, in it of itself, doesn’t sound too menacing. But the high pressure blocked the storm from moving out. So our winds started blowing on Wednesday and blew right through Friday. There was even fetch being created offshore on Saturday as the storm was slow to pull away. It was the length of time that it sat there. At one point, Melissa was only drifting at 3 mph. But the longer it sits in one place, the bigger the surf and the more water that enters Egg Harbor Inlet and Barnegat Inlet. Spots that haven’t flooded in years were well underwater and cars were definitely lost.

And it could have been a lot worse. First off, there was very little rain with Melissa. She moved just far enough offshore that we didn’t get much moisture at all. Can you imagine if she’d just sat there with those rain bands dumping inches and inches onto our already flooded island? In addition, there was a full moon but not astronomical tides. I didn’t understand this myself but got resident coastal sustainability specialist/surfer Chris Huch to drop some science for me. Tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun. Often full moons create extreme low and extreme high tides. But in this case, the sun’s pull canceled out the moon’s pull and we didn’t have extreme tides to begin with. As bad as it was, we still got lucky. (And it didn’t happen Chowderfest weekend.)

As for surf, the swell got absolutely huge here. On Wednesday and Thursday, a few guys went for drifts, reporting mostly north winds and cleanish faces, but the drift was insane. By Thursday night, it was maxed out and Friday was full “Victory at Sea.” Thursday proved to be a pretty historic session up on Long Island, N.Y., and a handful of LBI surfers were part of the massive barrel fest that happened up there.

Saturday was the first day that got good on LBI. The wind went light offshore. You have to imagine that a little more wind would have made it cleaner, but this was better than those nuclear offshores we get in the winter. Though the drift was still an issue, spots on the South End had overhead, peeling lefts. It was challenging, but the waves were simply firing. Just getting to Beach Haven or Holgate was tricky with the early high tide on the bay.

Surf City was a full show of the ocean’s power, with sets nearly double overhead and square waves without backs. This was extremely challenging, but to see some of our local chargers coming through those massive hollow beasts was simply astounding and just to pick off a set wave was a rush. The swell continued to rage, but the afternoon low tide and unfortunate onshore winds definitely had a negative effect.

The storm moved farther away on Saturday night, but there was still a solid swell train. The winds were straight offshore early, and those key spots were again working with less drift, less size and a bit less anxiety. The wind eventually came onshore again, but from the looks at the Kite Fest, there was still plenty of swell.

Even Monday morning was solid. An early high-tide was swamping the swell a bit and winds weren’t ideal. but there were still waves. Things didn’t really come together until afternoon when the wind went back offshore. But the south winds ruined any hopes of a fun session. Hell, even Tuesday still had a little Melissa leftover.

THE DOWNSIDE OF ALL THIS: Aside from the obvious flooding, there was a downside to this swell. Whenever we get a big, multi-day northeast blow and swell, the heavy wave action causes beach erosion. If you’re looking for the most extreme examples, go to Holgate and Barnegat Light. Both lost a significant amount of beach.

Related to this, the wave energy also eats away at the inside sandbar, putting all the sand way outside with a deep trough on the inside. This is what’s known as a “winter beach,” and it’s rarely good for surfing. While it can work for those huge days, it really makes those 2- to 3-foot days tough to surf, primarily with closeouts, long paddles and super short rides. This situation has been exacerbated the last few years, as the jetties are buried. Traditionally, jetties tended to hold some sand near the beach. Spots from North Beach Haven Ship Bottom will be tough the next few weeks. Even Surf City is hurting.

SRHS SURF TEAM BUILDS MOMENTUM: The scholastic surf season ended on Sunday with some clean surf in Spring Lake, and the Southern Regional High Surf Team made some waves at the National Scholastic Surfing Association’s Northeast High School Championships. Members of this year’s team include Shane Evert, Dan Lee, Nolan Andersen, James Malandro, Beck Jaffe and Danny Wilgus with faculty adviser Joanne Rist and assistant coach Randy Townsend. Townsend, whose pro surfing exploits we are all very aware of, also volunteers directing the NSSA district.

Southern once had a very strong surf club team. But the last time they were truly competitive was a decade ago and there were some pretty lean years since. Now there are a handful of kids with a bit of fire.

Surfers compete individually, but the farther they advance through the event, the better they score for the whole team. Most of the Southern kids made a round or two, and sophomore Shane Evert went to the quarterfinals. The team’s longboarder and female surfer didn’t make the event, however, leaving a big hole in their overall scoring potential. In the end, Manasquan High School captured a sixth consecutive title.

Schools like Manasquan and Ocean City dominate these events because their beach towns are bigger year-round communities, they have bigger jetties that make for more friendly year-round conditions, the high schools are closer to the beach and they’ve had a bit more support. The kids are more tuned in and they surf more.

Evert has three years left to compete and there are some solid surfers coming up from the middle school so the kids are feeling a bit of momentum right now. It will be up to them to start organizing and see if they can build the tradition back up in future years.

COMING UP: Last Saturday’s Long Beach Township Oyster Shellebration was canceled due to … well, everything being underwater. The event has been rescheduled to this Saturday at Bayview Park, extending the shoulder season just a bit more. Come out and enjoy the fresh oysters, some bayman knowledge, music and beers. But maybe bring a sweater, or a flannel.

Other than that, things are quiet. Next week there are a bunch of early Halloween happenings for both kids and adults from pumpkin painting to trunk-or-treats and late-night parties.

The ocean is still relatively warm, although we will see the air temps drop. Saturday morning will be a brisk 45. Still, there’s plenty of good weather ahead before we get all frosty.

joncoen@thesandpaper.net

 

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