Liquid Lines

Tired of Hearing About How Great Local Summer Is? Neither Are We.

Hurricane Dorian delivers one amazing day of epic September swell.
By JON COEN | Sep 11, 2019
Photo by: LJ Hepp Best wave of the year? Best swell of the year? Best swell in five years? Connor Willem super deep in a cavernous blue Harvey Cedars barrel courtesy of Hurricane Dorian.

“It’s better in September”… Local Summer … The second season. Oh, how we love to glorify this time of year. Year-rounders, part-time residents, and especially surfers. All year we talk about how great it is. And by the time it gets here, it’s so over-hyped. Enough already.

We go on and on about no traffic, hurricane swells, finally getting a day off and a spot on the beach without a family from Staten Island putting their cooler full of High Noons 3 inches from our towel. Every conversation, every business owner, every social media post. #september #localsummer.

Aren’t you over it already? It’s more annoying than pumpkin spice season, or the people who complain about pumpkin spice season. (I’m not really sure which is worse.) Don’t you get sick of it?

Yeah, neither do I!

After the weekend we just had, I’ll take all the Local Summer you can give me. And I think I speak for pretty much everyone else when I say that. In fact, if you didn’t enjoy Long Beach Island last weekend, you’re simply a miserable person who couldn’t have fun at a Parliament Funkadelic show on Super Silver Haze in 1976. You might as well just hand in your muck boots and your flannel and move to Moorestown or Morristown ... I don’t even know which is which. All I know is they didn’t have absolutely stellar beach weather and a cerulean blue hurricane swell that will go down in the annals of all-time September swells.

But we did. And it was spectacular. For most of the weekend, the wind was perfect. The temperature was perfect. You could sleep with no air conditioning and the windows open. Every summertime spot was open. There was hardly a wait for a table or a line for coffee. And the ocean is still warm. You could have surfed in trunks, but most opted for a light wetsuit, simply because they were going to be surfing for so many hours.

And most of all, Hurricane Dorian took a perfect track through our swell window. How perfect? On a rare occasion, LBI has the best surf in New Jersey. In this case, LBI had the best swell on the whole East Coast. When you see legendary pro surfers paddle past you, you know that it’s a pretty damn good day.

What’s that you say? You couldn’t go in the ocean because of the big waves? Well, there are still lifeguards on in many spots and protected places to swim on Saturday. Plus the swell dropped so much overnight that it was back to splashin’ around by Sunday.

If this is any kind of indication of what the season ahead is going to hold, we’re all in. Will we miss days of summer and the magic that comes with it? Yes. And will there be some crisp autumn days ahead of fire pits and nor’easters? Sure. But for now, we’ll bask in this magic season that offers the best of both.

HURRICANE DORIAN AND ALL THAT GOOD STUFF: I’ll preface this by saying this was not a perfect storm track. While it was a good track for waves, a perfect track would have not blasted the Bahamas, torn up the Southeast, flooded the Outer Banks and walloped Nova Scotia. And everyone who surfed Dorian on Saturday is well aware of the suffering it has caused. Have no doubt that the surfers who scored will contribute to the effort in those areas in the months to come.

We’d have to go all the way back to Aug. 19 when we first heard about this system, way out in the ocean. It had been a quiet year, especially in the open Atlantic. Dorian was named on Aug. 24, exactly two weeks before we would experience her bounty.

It basically rode the entire southeast coast, trampling the Outer Banks as a Cat 1 storm and then actually regained Cat 2 strength as it fired up the Gulf Stream to Canada. We had some minor swell last Wednesday before it tucked into the coast, and then things started to build on Friday, as Dorian interacted with high pressure over the East Coast and we had pretty significant northeast winds.

On Friday night, much of the surf community was gathered at the Old Causeway Steak and Oyster House for the picking of the teams for the 13th annual Jetty Clam Jam. Now, anytime you have all those surfers of different generations getting together, there’s going to be a certain amount of stoke in the room. But knowing Saturday would be a day of days, there was a palpable excitement on that porch.

By first light on Saturday morning, there were cars zipping up and down the Boulevard with boards in the passenger seats, on roofs and hanging out the back of truck beds. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen that. And it wasn’t just the local crew. It’s funny how news of a hurricane swell seems to bring less-than-experienced surfers out of the woodwork. It’s as if you had taken two boxing lessons this year, then Mike Tyson shows up at the Port Hole and you think this would be a good time to go a few rounds. At any rate, everyone was looking for a piece.

The surf still had an element of “morning sickness” with some north in the wind, but there was an urgency to get in before the 9 a.m. low tide rendered it unrideable. Spots on the South End and some deeper spots mid-Island were handling it, with 6-foot sets. Low tide provided a short respite, and by the time the tide was rebounding, the wind had lightened up and was straight offshore with reeling left tubes. And the beauty of it was that most spots were working. Too often the whole Island is closing out and we all wind up scrapping at the one spot that’s working. In this case, you could have pretty much picked any random street and gone out for the warm-water swell of the year.

By now you’ve likely heard and seen the goings-on in Harvey Cedars. In the middle of the day, there were 6- to 8-foot sets pumping in and absolutely unloading on the sandbar. Cedars has three well-known trenches in its offshore bathymetry, and this swell was the perfect angle to be magnified through that deep water. Former WSL World Tour vet Cory Lopez, aspiring Florida pro Robbie McCormick and California’s young pro Dimitri Poulous had both traveled out for the swell and were threading some long, heaving dramatic barrels. But not to be outdone, our local crew shone just as bright, with our varsity guys powering through draining tubes. It was a fantastic show, no doubt about it. (In case you weren’t there, there were beatings and close-outs aplenty as well.)

Surf City had all the vertical height of Cedars but was a little more makeable, with hours and hours of huge drops, bowls and long lefts. The South End was doing its thing as well. While a former-secret spot that has had some metallic reinforcements to its deciduous nature didn’t break all summer after being starved of sand from said metallic reinforcements, it was firing. And from the looks, just as good as ever. (Read: Wooden Jetty is working again.)

A lot of spots were slowed down by that full afternoon high tide, but the Dorian swell kept giving right until dark. It was a day for the ages.

Sunday morning was again offshore, but the surf had dropped to 2-foot. Unlike Saturday, you had to look for a decent spot. Some stand-out streets still had waist- to belly-high peaks, and it was a gorgeous morning with dolphins playing just off the beach. By mid-morning, the wind came onshore, and the Dorian swell was already a memory.

As swells go, this is not one that anyone will soon be forgetting.

And if you’re interested, Waves for Water, that amazing surf-based organization that showed up here after Sandy, has already been busy down in the Bahamas for the last week. Clean water will be a dire issue, and since there are no unaffected areas that will work for staging, they are posted up on a 60-foot catamaran. The Surf Industry Manufacturer’s Association is taking up the call, raising funds and supporting Waves for Water’s work.

While the giant mess of what was once Hurricane Dorian raced across the ocean, we had Tropical Storm Gabriel out there and an area of disturbed weather in the Caribbean. The next tropical swell could come from one of the lows that are coming off Africa this week. Hopefully we can score some of that minus the destruction.

DUDE, WHERE’S MY SANDBAR?: Every year about this time we have the same conversation. Everyone is wondering what happened to the sandbar they enjoyed all summer. The truth is our beaches morph pretty much on cue every September. During the summer, sand accrues on and just off the beaches. We get nice “terrace” off the beach that you can walk out on. It generally makes the waves better and creates that good sandbar for bodysurfing, kids swimming, families, etc.

Stop me if I’m getting dramatic, but I honestly think good sandbars are our best asset. You can have the best restaurants, the nicest beaches, the highest Ferris wheel and great beach towns (which I am convinced we have all of, by New Jersey standards.) But there is more joy that comes from warm-water waves rolling across those shallows than all of that.

Cue the violins.

It’s what summers are based on in your childhood. Without them, there would be no surfing, surf culture or the fruity smell of surf wax. Hell, even our adulthood is based on that sandbar. Frankly, that’s why we all get so worked up over beach replenishment. We understand we need the projects in the big picture. But at the same time, temporarily losing sandbars has a huge impact on our beaching lifestyle.

But once we get our first fall storm – in this case it was the August nor’easter two weeks back – everything changes. Now, in some cases it helped. The far north end of the Island was suffering from a lack of sand. I’m not really sure why, but the whole middle of the summer, the waves were just crashing unceremoniously on the beach. The storm helped to move sand offshore and set things up for the good surf that followed.

In a lot of spots, particularly mid-Island, however, the change was for the worse. After the nor’easter and the brief Hurricane Erin swell, we had more of a winter beach look, where that terrace dropped off into a trough. Then the sandbar winds up farther out. Swimmers can’t really walk to the outer bar at low tide. And for surfing, it’s particularly bad. The waves tend to break less consistently, and much of the time you catch a wave and then find it dying as you get into deeper water. It’s not ideal. It’s the reason we don’t surf on the southern end of Surf City through Brant Beach for much of the off-season. It seems the beaches change a bit more now that the jetties are buried.

Last winter was a bit of an anomaly. Because we didn’t have any nor’easters, we did get some good sandbars mid-Island that made for better waves at spots that are more summer oriented. I wouldn’t expect that to happen again. All of this means you have to go around and start checking spots to find where the surf is setting up into the fall and winter.

NO-STOP SEPTEMBER: Are you digging how the surf events didn’t completely die when the summer ends? There’s plenty happening this week to keep you busy.

This Thursday night, Ryan Zimmerman will have the record release party for his new CD at the Old Causeway in Manahawkin. Zimmerman is pretty much buds with the entire surf community, so it should be of interest to most. This is his third album release, and he will be playing a show backed by Alex Rosini and Greg Warren of Chevy Lopez, two faces that we always like seeing in the water. The whole thing starts at 9 p.m.

On Saturday, Sept. 14, Farias will present Protect Your Peaks: Talk with Greg Long at the Ship Bottom shop. The big-wave world champ will be talking about his life as a surfer and activist. While a lot of these surf brand shop events are quick-stop parties, Patagonia always has substance. As part of this series around the country, Patagonia is inviting groups that have an environmental or surf access focus. In our case, they have invited Alliance for a Living Ocean to do a meet and greet before Greg starts talking about important issues that affect all of us.

This weekend is also the first potential window for the Jetty Clam Jam. This is the season where we all have to start looking at the forecast on Monday before we can make plans for the weekend. Parents, kids, wives and girlfriends of surfers love it. Right now it looks like Saturday and Sunday will both have waves. Winds don’t look ideal, but Sunday does look better.

Later in the month, the Maker’s Fest is at Manahawkin Lake Park on Sept. 21, and the following day is the LBI Community Bridge Walk.

So find a spot on that empty beach, enjoy some uncrowded waves, keep an eye out for our next tropical swell and cram in as much September as you can.

joncoen@thesandpaper.net

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