Liquid Lines

The Story of the Night Surf Mishap, Southern Hemi Swells and Longboard Classic This Weekend

By JON COEN | Aug 07, 2019
Courtesy of: IMDB/ A-Team Films ‘Summer’s almost over. Let’s get radical.’ Leroy, Matt and Jack knew what August meant in the 1974 film ‘Big Wednesday.’

Long Beach Island — “Summer’s almost over. Let’s get radical.” —Matt Johnson, “Big Wednesday,” 1974.

If you know the quote, you know it means more than just having an epic house party. There’s something special about August.

Of course, there’s the obvious – the sweetest of Jersey tomatoes, the Alliance for a Living Ocean Longboard Classic, and the ocean water temp getting up into the high 70s and staying there. But August is where summer blossoms. It’s where the season comes to a giant explosion of potential. Whatever we’re doing, we take it to another level. August usually means hurricane swells. It means developing deeper friendships with those we’ve been rampaging with since Memorial Day. Full-grown adults act like teenagers. Teenagers act like aliens. We get crazy knowing that in a few short weeks, this will be a much different place. Even if we relish the coming change, we tend to crank up the intensity on whatever it is we’re doing.

I met up with my old friend Johnny on the beach last week with his mother, the sweetest Boston Irish woman you’re ever going to meet. He was home from California with his wife and kids. And even though they live in the state that basically invented beach culture, they all look forward to their summer sojourn back to the magical New Jersey Shore.

It reminded me of a particular event the summer after we graduated high school. Every 18-year-old kid is an idiot, and we were no exception. And as the summer of dish washing, bridge jumping, surfing junk waves, house parties, sleeping on the beach, doomed teenage relationships and endless laps around Beach Haven was coming to an end, my friends and I were looking for our next adventure.

One stifling late-August evening, a night surf was the call.

I’ve had some amazing night surf sessions on LBI. Some have been under a full moon. One was with a bud who claims his old nickname was “The Midnight Surfer.” Others have been highlighted by wild, phosphorescent jellyfish. One winter night session I accidentally left the door to my Volkswagen open and upon walking to my car, jumped 10 feet in the air when a raccoon leapt out.

But on this sweaty summer night, there was no full moon, no great swell or any other reason to surf in the dark, other than we needed a thrill and likely a good story to tell the girls we would meet at school in September.

I remember another friend and I, hopped up on giant cans of Arizona Iced Tea and ballistic adolescent energy, arriving at Johnny’s house with the plan. He was game. We could have said we were paddling a canoe to Europe and he would have been in. (He was also the guy who first handed me a VHS copy of John Milius’ Big Wednesday.)

What sticks out the most was his mother, sensibly objecting in her Boston accent.

“Where ahh you three going? Jawnny, I don’t like this ideaaah one bit!” she protested as we giggled, scrambling to get boards on the roof of the car.

We popped in that self-titled Rage Against the Machine cassette, drove over the bridge, past the Starboard Inn with the giant inflatable crab on the roof, and directly to Cape May Avenue in Harvey Cedars.

Cedars was an exciting place for a surfer then. This beach, with the old prominent jetty that used to shape great waves on north and south swells, was our promised land. It was our Everest, our Max Yasgur’s Farm, our Lower Trestles, all wrapped into one. It’s where we surfed every session, where we hung out at the beach when the surf was flat after school, and even though we had 18 miles of the same sandy beaches, it’s where we we’d take a girl at night, as if the charisma of the spot would smooth out our otherwise awkward performance.

Once we arrived, we unstrapped the boards and went running down to the water. It was warm and adventurous. We were loud, obnoxious and grabbing summer by the yarples.

What I most remember was that it was dead low tide. And if you recall the north side of that jetty in the ’90s, you know how shallow it could get. We were mostly flailing and had a handful of terrible rides. We were trading off a ’60s longboard that I had bought for $15 from a kid in school that was rumored to be stolen and painted over to disguise it. I think that’s what Johnny was riding when he crashed blindly into the sandbar, ending the session.

We carried him up to the car and sped back over the bridge. Johnny was in some pain as we debated where to take him.

His mother had not been happy about the idea in the first place, so we were reticent to bring him home. For all our adolescent bravado, we were fairly terrified of an angry mom – our mother or anyone else’s. For some reason, the hospital never crossed our minds.

At that time there was a party house in town dubbed “Pete’s Pub.” Our friends’ father had moved to Florida and let his son live at the house until it sold. A mixed gender crew of kids had moved in. In retrospect, it wasn’t the most sound real estate decision ever. I still remember parties there that Christmas.

We arrived to our friends getting stoned and playing hacky-sack to Dinosaur Jr., which when you’re 18 is the next best thing to an osteopath. They took a look at the swollen foot, but not before ripping on our third friend who was still wearing his wetsuit.

Eventually we would have to bring Johnny home. His mother had every right to give him the “I tawled you that was a bad ideaaah,” but we all survived. Poor Johnny started his freshman year of college on crutches that September.

AMERICA, 2019: Man, do I hate to ruin a good time column by discussing life in America in 2019. I know some folks hate any mention of “politics” in 2019, but are we even talking about politics anymore?

I kind of feel like, as a columnist, I have a tiny voice. And I want to use it to remind the sane people around here that this is not normal. I take it as my responsibility. Because when you have two mass shootings in this country in a single day, one very racially motivated, and you don’t have a 99 percent consensus that something needs to be done immediately, it’s easy to feel like you’re living in an alternate reality. It’s easy to get desensitized. I can’t even make this humorous because it’s simply not funny.

There’s a reality that we have a president who speaks and acts for one specific demographic, pitting them against everyone else. He has refused to make any effort to stop American bloodshed. That’s not bold leadership; it’s petty and it’s dangerous.

You think this is far off and doesn’t concern you? Last week, The SandPaper ran a story on Facebook posts by Stafford Councilman George Williams mocking Mexicans who are in the midst of a migrant crisis and another post mocking diversity that prompted a comment about a sniper rifle that he responded to with a joke. He was elected on the “Make America Great Again” ticket.

These are memes and opinions, not actual hate crimes. But this is an elected official who has taken the responsibility for governing a town. These are his beliefs and he has no shame in sharing them in public. And despite what he may think, there are people in our communities of different races, beliefs and orientations who find this a slippery slope.

Southern Ocean County is full of sportsmen. It’s a celebrated way of life here. I’ve never heard a word about taking away anyone’s hunting gear. As appreciative as we are of “thoughts and prayers,” the rest of us are waiting for the responsible gun owners to step up and use their vast knowledge of firearms to end this insanity that is exponentially worse than any other developed nation in the world. Maybe we can do it while still protecting ourselves from King George III.

The events this weekend should shake us all, even Councilman George Williams.


There are a few people who actually read Liquid Lines, even if it’s just little bits when you spread The SandPaper over the picnic table to eat crabs. There are the surfers who read up for practical information and those who just like fun stories and social commentary. The latter generally skip over the bits about how the sandbar is shaping up and the sea surface temperature anomalies in the Atlantic Basin. I don’t take offense.

The last few weeks I’ve been discussing the long period groundswell we’ve been getting. And I have to imagine a lot of the general public just skips right over it. But this isn’t just surf talk (or more specifically surf-nerd meteorology talk). It really should be of interest to anyone who goes to the beach, even if you’re only interested in the novelty of it all.

To be clear, you might not even notice it. It hasn’t been big swell by any stretch. But the difference between ankle high and waist high in the summer is massive, even if you’re a swimmer. I’d like to think of this as the Dummies Guide to Southern Hemi swells, except in this case, it’s the dummy doing the explaining.

It’s currently winter in the Southern Hemisphere, which means they are getting the kind of robust weather we have during our winter. That means there are giant storms traveling from South America across the southern Atlantic Ocean toward Africa. They’re in a particularly active weather pattern right now, so the storms are really firing with 35-foot waves around the storm. Those swells are traveling 4,000 to 5,000 of miles, past the Caribbean, to our beaches. By the time they get here, they may only be 2-foot, but they get here nonetheless. Surfline does a great job of picking these up on the buoys and pointing them out.

The longer swells travel, generally the longer the swell interval or higher the swell period (time between waves). Some of these swells are being tracked at 13- or even 18-second intervals. So when you’re sitting on the beach enjoying a gorgeous day of sunshine and going out for a bodysurf, that’s where this is coming from. Mixed with some more localized swell, it can make for some fun surf.

The last few weeks have not given us anything special, but when there’s some kind of motion, the right perspective and the right board, it can make all the difference in the world.

THIS WEEK: There’s still no amazing swell in our forecast, but you’ll certainly have opportunities to get wet. What was once a potential tropical storm has fallen apart. Some of that energy and moisture could add to the little local swell and long-period waves, but don’t go getting the step up just yet.

The tropics normally do turn on about this time of year and we did see some signs last week that things might waken. But a lot of dry air is keeping the party from getting going.

That said, there should be a little bigger surf by late week, and winds look good on Friday. It also looks like we may get an early taste of September weather with cooler temps. Who doesn’t love that?

THE HEAT OF THE ACTION: It doesn’t get any more “summer” than this, and we’re about to have one of our greatest Island summer traditions this weekend. This Saturday is the Alliance for a Living Ocean LBI Longboard Classic, a contest that has grown right with all the other fantastic beach happenings on the Island in the past decade.

The premise of the event, as always, is a retro celebration of surfboards and style from the ’60s, surfing’s first golden era. Surfers must ride pre-1969 boards without leashes, which is challenging. But when done correctly, there’s a gorgeous esthetic to it.

The contest will start at 8 a.m. sharp at the 17th Street beach in Ship Bottom. There are a lot of surfers this year, so it’s important to get there early and register. There will be a live band on the beach, food for competitors and raffle prizes. The men’s division is full, but there is still room for women, kids and the tandem, which has become a whole lot of fun to watch.

Aug. 26 is the Barnegat Bay Challenge, the 5-mile paddle/row race organized by the Ship Bottom Beach Patrol. Registration starts at 5 a.m.

On Aug. 15, Vans ambassadors, the Gudauskas brothers, will be at Farias in Ship Bottom. They’ve been coming out the last few summers. This year they will be stopping on LBI en route to their Stoke-O-Rama surf contest at Manasquan Inlet on the 17th. They will be at the Ship Bottom location, serving waffles (Vans knows how to do waffles) from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

My lede this week is all about August and pushing your summer to the next level. The Barnegat Bay Challenge is a great example of that. No matter what you’ve been doing all summer – surf ski, prone, SUP, or rowing – this race is something to work up to. It will be held on the evening of Aug. 26 this year, starting at the Ship Bottom bay beach. Go make sure your summer blooms to its full August potential.

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