Liquid Lines

The ‘Serf’ Column: LBI’s Move to Medieval Feudalism; Plus Good Swell, Bad Winds

Do the Powers That Be Care About Community or Just New Development?
By JON COEN | Oct 02, 2019
Photo by: Jonathan Hoover Don’t let anyone tell you that no one bodyboards anymore. Zach Venesiano scores hurricane swell.

Long Beach Island — Don’t you wish there was just a giant pause button you could put on the seasons? As some of the leaves are just starting to lose their pigment, we’re still enjoying an almost second summer as we start October. With plenty of waves and absolutely stellar weather, this has been a hell of a time for enjoying our little sandbar. Wednesday’s heatwave was kind of like that last day of flurries in April when we’re completely over winter.

That’s the kind of stuff I love covering in Liquid Lines. It gives a nice balance to all the bitching from March to May. And of course, covering the waves.

And that’s why this is generally known as the surf column. But I also like digging into some local social commentary and in this case, let’s call this the “serf,” column because with some of the goings-on around here, it would seem that LBI is headed toward some good old-fashioned feudalism, right out of medieval times.

Serfs are known in history as the laborers on the giant farms of Europe from about the 13th to 17th centuries. They were born into serf families, lived on a small plot of land and worked the fields for the landlord. That was your lot in life. The only ladder you climbed was to power wash the side of the Lord’s castle.

I’ve only waded slightly with my pitchfork into the pile of straw that is the issue surrounding the LBI school system. I’ve been watching mostly from across the cotton fields because for the last 10 years it’s been a giant mess of confusion. I am by no means an expert on this subject as it seems that nothing that is stated ever seems to be the actual case

There is a movement to consolidate the Ethel Jacobsen Elementary School (currently pre-K to second grade) and the LBI Grade School (currently 3rd grade to 6th grade) into one school.

As a parent of a district student, I have observed two major points. The first is that this is an exceptional school system. For as much as every family is struggling to simply maintain their life on an ever-changing LBI, the administrators, faculty and experience make it all worth it. As far as educating your kids in a small town community, no one does it better.

The second point is that the powers that be seem to want to consolidate the two schools. This is an 18-mile Island with five municipalities, five public works, five beach patrols and four police departments. We don’t consolidate anything on this sandbar. But suddenly, there’s a big push to tear down one school and push all of the kids into the other.

Some members of the school board seem to want to move everyone into the LBI School. Also, according those board members, the LBI School is in the same shape as the old Happy Days Gunning Club shack right before it fell to Sandy. They know this because they have had it surveyed 16 times.

What most who live here, work here and send our kids to school here suspect is that the “Lords of the Manors,” if you will, have the potential to profit from the land on whichever school gets shuttered. I don’t know if this is a secret. The first-graders talk about it at recess.

This ruling class is building the expansive homes that all pretty much look the same. These are not for people to live in, but vacation homes. Make no mistake, we all survive on visitors and second homeowners, but these factors have made it more difficult for the very families with school-aged children to stay here. The Island reached its peak year-round population in the ’80s and has dropped since, resulting in a smaller number of kids in the schools and sparking the talk of consolidation.

It’s sad that we’ve accepted the fact that we’re not going to regain our once thriving year-round population. It would seem that to put all the kids in once school is saying that we essentially give up and make LBI simply a resort community for an ever-more -affluent clientele. Available land would mean more opportunity to build and sell. And thus, educating the children of the locals has become a pain in the ass for those who are making the real money.

(For those who don’t speak fluid sarcasm, you can just skip this part.)

I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Why don’t we just tear down both schools and develop every last inch of open space we have left? Let’s bend some rules and zone for even more houses that look exactly the same.

But the ruling class still needs the workers and small business owners who shuck the scallops, print the coozies, save the swimmers, fix the boats, plant the flowers, remove fishing hooks from fingers and write silly columns for the local paper.

They still need us serfs.

So why don’t all of the local families with kids just settle down? Let’s just accept full feudalism. We can continue to run our small businesses to serve the folks who stay in their five-bedroom investment properties for eight weeks a year under the guidance of the ruling class. Let’s sell our homes to the developers. The landowners can build us some smaller tenement dwellings (slave is such a strong word) where the EJ playground used to be. They can provide food and clothing for our servitude. I’m sure they will throw us a pickleball court or something.

The kids can go to school on the mainland. Or, why do they need to go to school at all? There will be all those new construction sites and houses to clean... and you don’t need a whole lot of education for that.

THE ACTUAL SURF COLUMN: September has been great on most accounts, but the last week of waves, not so much. Last week, we talked about how LBI doesn’t fare so well on groundswell, and that has been apparent again this week, with the added disappointment of junk winds.

Last Wednesday the forecast called for 4- to 6-foot swell. Monmouth County had legit 4- to 6-foot swell thanks to Hurricane Jerry, way out in the ocean. I checked the surf here at daybreak and it was barely waist high and closing out. It never really got any better and then the wind went south for the day. For as amazing as the instances are that LBI is the best spot in New Jersey, we also see plenty of instances where somewhere else is firing and we get skunked.

So we generally went from closeouts to flat to southeast wind slop to northeast winds on Sunday and Monday without any good, rideable waves. Even this past Tuesday, which held some promise, was pretty much junk here.

Earlier this week we had swell from Hurricane Lorenzo. You won’t hear too much about Lorenzo because he stayed way out on the other side of the ocean. But he was a beast of a storm, nonetheless, rapidly intensifying to a Cat 5 storm on Saturday. Now, normally a storm that’s 2,000 miles away wouldn’t be a very big wavemaker, but when a storm of that size gets as angry as 160 mph, it can shoot swell out all over the Atlantic Ocean.

On a side note for the weather nerds out there, Lorenzo got over some very warm water and became a rare Cat 5 farther east than any other Atlantic storm ever has. Along with Dorian earlier this season, this is only one of seven seasons in history to see two Cat 5 storms. Had Lorenzo been anywhere near the Western Atlantic at that intensity, it would have been bad news for somebody. In fact, even though he weakened, Lorenzo was pretty dangerous for the Azores, and there’s a chance it could smash Ireland or England.

Closer to home, we’re in something of a period of transition. Though it’s been hot for this late in the season, we haven’t had summer wind patterns where the breeze dies at night. We’re also not yet at that point in the season where we see days of offshore wind. The result is a mixed bag of wind that has been mostly onshore and hurting the surf.

Today’s (Wednesday) highs are supposed to nearly hit 90. We should see a front come through on Thursday. Overnight on Friday, temps will drop down into the mid 40s. The weather ahead still looks fantastic but definitely seasonal. It could also facilitate more offshore winds as the land temps won’t be so much higher than the ocean temp.

LOCAL MOUNTAINEERING: OK, it’s not exactly summiting Mt. Everest, but our Dorland J Henderson Bridge has a lot less poop and dead bodies if you’re looking to add some elevation to your workout.

With the (almost) completion of the new bridge project, the DOT has built us a pretty awesome pedestrian lane on the Causeway. Does anyone else remember running or biking over the bridge prior to 2013? You took your life in your hands, either riding on a narrow shoulder or an even narrower path that was about half the width of a standard sidewalk.

But earlier this year, a brand new walk/run/bike lane was unveiled complete with switchback steps to parallel roads and pedestrian walkways under each span of the bridge. The connecting sidewalks have been the latest project.

And in addition to this new access to the bay, there’s a whole lot of potential to mix into your workout. You’ve likely seen the same endurance crazies that go north to south on the Boulevard now running or cycling over the bridge. I guess it’s still pretty novel because when you pass someone else jogging or pedaling up there, they still generally wave or say hello. By next summer, it will be old news and people will just stare at their phones again.

If you’re traveling east to west, you have a nice lane on the bridge and across Cedar Bonnet Island and then a path down to Crab Trap Lane on Bonnet Island, which runs parallel to the bridge. That stretch got pretty buggy in the summer; not so much of an issue now. There also seems to be a pretty good population of rabbits down there, which is cute. I just wonder what happens when the falcons on the south side of the Causeway find out.

The main span again has a nice pedestrian lane. This is where you get a good bit of uphill work. And when you get to the top, the view of our local ecosystem and community is pretty amazing. You come back down to plenty of room and access to the bay at Mallard Island.

The whole expanse, from Hochstrasser’s Marina to Bay Avenue in Manahawkin is about 2 miles. It’s all accessible and ready for you to pound some pavement now that the weather is cooling.

OCTOBER: It’s not easy to say goodbye to a September like that. I think the only time it rained was at night. This month was loaded with beach days and waves, one to remember. But I’m not alone in saying that I sure do love October. And it’s kind of funny to have the Clam Jam behind us already.

This weekend is, of course, Chowderfest, the ultimate local event down in Beach Haven. Saturday is the Merchants Mart and Sunday is the big dance. Saturday looks good and Sunday warms up to 70 for some ideal slurpin’ weather.

Chowderfest seems to bring two different points of view. People who summer on LBI and half the locals love it. The other half of the locals steer clear and are just happy when the lights blink yellow on Monday morning.

On your way down to Chowderfest on Saturday, make a stop at Brighton Beach Surf Shop. From 9 a.m. on, owner Mike Lisiewski will host his fall boards swap. All are invited to sell and trade vintage boards, wetsuits, that old Hoodoo Gurus cassette you’ve been holding onto, or whatever else you want to get rid of. There are always some good finds down there. What better way to roll up to Chowderfest than with a nice 1967 noserider on the roof?

In other shop news, Surf Unlimited will be blowing out all summer apparel for 50 percent off. Also all of last winter’s wetsuits 5 mm and thicker will be half off.

The following weekend is both the LBI FLY Kite Fest, which runs Oct. 11-13. While there are kite events all over the Island that weekend, most of the action happens on the Ship Bottom beaches. Note that it’s mostly on the south end of town this year, from 17th Street to 25th. Saturday, Oct. 12 is also Long Beach Township’s Oyster Shellebration at Bayview Park, complete with this most famous bivalve, music, family fun and a kite fest demo. That night is also Fantasy Island’s final Firework Spectacular.

I think we’re going to get into some actual fall weather soon so the pumpkin-spice and firepit crowd will be happy. All in all, a great time of year here.

And let’s hope the powers that be can see the value in our community education, not just the value of some freed-up property to profit from.

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