Liquid Lines

Why Memorial Day Weekend Is Awkward for Local Surfers

Plus: Shuttles, Ferries, Beach Badges and the Season of Events
By JON COEN | May 29, 2019
Photo by: Paul Boardman In a weekend of mixed surf conditions, last Friday offered stomach-high peelers, just as the Island saw tens of thousands of visitors arriving.

Surf City — Man, Memorial Day is such a weird time to be a local surfer.

I guess it’s a somewhat strange time for any local in general, especially after a pretty much stellar holiday weekend.

There’s just something so odd about standing there in that sea of humanity, looking out at the actual sea on such a picturesque beach day. You start wondering if all these people who came over the bridge simply think it’s like this all the time.

“We love it here. LBI is amazing!”

And we just kind of nod, looking at our bemused expression in your mirrored sunglasses. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see everyone again (almost everyone). We’re thankful for the compliment. But it might be confusing to explain that we were standing in just about the same spot with a thermal and a wool hat just a few days ago. And the Island businesses and municipalities didn’t just magically prep on their own for your arrival.

Because as true locals know, the seasons are a little behind on LBI. It goes something like this – proper winter ends in early April. Then while the inland portion of the tri-state area starts to mellow, we get into that season called “late winter,” so even at the end of May, we’re still bundled up like the Rebel Alliance, riding tauntauns around the planet Hoth in a freezing onshore wind. The trees, the grasses and the marsh are all still brown.

Late winter can last right through May.

Then comes the rainy season. We put Brazilian rainforests to shame. The trees begin to bud and the grass starts to turn green, but it has nothing on the bright green mildew that’s growing on every bit of wood and plastic in the yard.

Then it happens all at once. The trees burst. Flowers bloom. The mercury rises in the thermometer. Cars start stopping for pedestrians. It’s a glorious feeling.

And spring on LBI lasts about one day. Because the next day is the start of Memorial Day weekend. The stoplights go on. The garbage cans go out on the beach and the next thing you know, there’s a three-block line to get ice cream at the same spot that has been empty for a month since it opened. Don’t blink.

And I say it’s a weird time to be a surfer because the ocean is generally still freezing. Now, usually there isn’t a ton of swell for the ol’ MDW, but this year saw a couple periods of decent surf, or at least a reason to get wet. But the temp topped out at 88 on Sunday. It was, by all measures, a summer day.

And that meant the beaches were simply packed with folks enjoying the great day, in their bikinis and trunks.

And if you surfed, you were standing on the beach in a 3-mil wetsuit and boots, possibly even gloves because the ocean temp is a full 35 degrees colder than the air. If you’re like me, it was in a rare free hour between work and commitments. Now, by New Jersey wetsuits, a 3-mil is not a ton of rubber. But with all these tan folks out there in just their bathing attire, we look ridiculous. Moreover, if you peel the suit down to your waist, you’ve got the white chest and beat red neck and chest of a wetsuit tan, like a chubby seal among a bunch of cool-looking sharks.

BIG HOLIDAY, DECENT SURF: As Memorial Days go, it was a banger. Island restaurants, nightclubs and retailers made more money than they have the last nine months combined.

As surf goes, it was pretty damn good, specifically on Friday afternoon. While half the state was coming over the new bridge, eyeballing the new pedestrian walkway and talking about “that new hotel,” a nifty little south swell had cleaned up.

This was the result of the low that moved through last Thursday. It wasn’t big by any means. In fact, the sets were only waist to belly high, but the wind was moderate offshore and there were crisp lines of swell running down the beach, a few punchy left and some long rights, not huge but proper waves. I hit it on the incoming tide on a summertime groveler board and it was a whole lot of fun, considering the lackluster mixed bag of the last few weeks. The sun was shining and there was a great pocket on the wave. And on one of the busiest beaches on the Island, I was alone. If this was the start to summer, I have a pretty good feeling about it.

The low pressure took a kind of strange track after it went offshore, doing a clockwise loop, which regenerated swell for Sunday that was very clean all morning. It didn’t have the ruler-edged perfection of Friday, but the ocean was nice and blue. The wind eventually turned south ahead of the evening thunderstorms, thankfully dropping the temperature.

Monday still held a wave and the wind was basically dead in the morning. The surf had picked up about a foot. So there was size and no wind, but also very little shape. Apparently, loop storm tracks are not the best for LBI’s preferred swell direction. Still, if you wanted a chest-high wave on a holiday weekend, it was out there. The wind came up north pretty early. There was nothing stellar, but waves nonetheless.

THE WHEELS ON THE BUS: I honestly never thought I would see the day.

As of this weekend, we now have the most public transportation around LBI since the day of ferries and railroads.

LBI has never been much for public transport. I think a lot of us used to travel to beach towns and mountain resorts where they have shuttles during the off season and think, “Why the hell can’t my town do this?”

For a while, it seemed that the powers that be didn’t really want anyone coming to the Island who didn’t arrive in a $89,000 luxury SUV. But someone made the connection that it was good for business, and the last few seasons have seen the LBI Shuttle become a part of summer on the Island, particularly useful for those under 17 (and unbelievably useful for day drinkers).

That was in addition to the Surf Line Bus that started about seven years ago by Transport Azumah, running directly from LBI to Manhattan. Note that they now have a Philly route, which picks up and drops off at the SEPTA Terminal in Center City.

But new this year is the mainland loop of the LBI shuttle, which hits the Stafford DMV at the Mahanawkin Plaza, 39th Street in Brant Beach and North First Street in Ship Bottom. It runs all day for the same fee and lets you access the main shuttle line going north and south on the Boulevard.

On top of that is the water ferry, running from Tuckerton Seaport to Beach Haven, leaving Tuckerton at 8 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and departing the Queen City at 9:30, 12:30 and 3:30. The trip across the bay is a full hour and the boat holds 28 passengers. The ferry is free, unless you want to reserve a seat, which is $10. There are a number of seats that are for walk-ups, first come, first served.

Unlike the shuttle, which is perfect for teenagers looking for freedom and a way to get to work, passengers under 16 on the ferry must be accompanied by an adult.

For all the complaining we do about traffic, public transport can actually reduce the number of cars on the road. But I guess when we complain about traffic, we’re mostly complaining about all the other cars.

BADGES: It’s almost time for the annual conversation about beach badges. I’m going to skip the ethics vs. economic debate on paying to go to the beach for now. I do, however, remember a girl once telling me that “It’s so unfair. If your family owns a second house on the Island, you should just get your badges for freeeeeee.”

Yes, and you should be automatically admitted to any college that Lori Loughlin’s daughter gets into.

You have two more weekends to enjoy free beaches and then you will need a badge. Mid-June is when schools get out and families are down for the summer or the week. It’s also about the time the ocean warms up enough for swimming. I didn’t really see anyone in the ocean this weekend without a wetsuit, except for one college-age bro who sprinted into the ocean, dove under the shorebreak and then stood up to report, “It’s not that cold!” to his buddies, as he wrapped his arms around his body and hustled back to dry sand.

It should be noted that Ship Bottom and Beach Haven are now on the Viply App (along with 14 other New Jersey beach towns from Stone Harbor to Long Branch), meaning that you can buy a badge from your mobile device and your badge will actually be scanned from your phone or tablet by badge checkers on the beach.

You kinda wonder how this is going to affect the folks who always “forget” their badge. No one ever forgets their phone in 2019.

SO MUCH TO DO (IN A GOOD WAY): The ladies down at the Union Market in Tuckerton had a fantastic turnout for the Arts & Craft Beer Festival on Saturday. It wasn’t exactly a beach day with the temps and wind, but a perfect day for music, handmade items and food.

Now that “the big weekend” is behind us, we’re going to start getting into event after event.

This Thursday, pioneering big-wave surfer Paige Alms will be in town and visiting Farias in Ship Bottom. Alms was the first woman to ever get barreled at the famous massive wave at Jaws in Hawaii. She won the the XXL Big Wave Overall Performance Award in 2015 and 2018, also taking the Women’s Big Wave World Championship in 2017 and 2018. She was also a cofounder of the Committee for the Equality for Women’s Surfing.

Alms is a Patagonia ambassador and in addition to surfing and foilboarding, she’s into organic gardening and cooking. Alms will be traveling with her biopic “Paige: A Life of Passion and Inspiration.”

The event is free and starts at 7 p.m. with the film showing at 7:30. Beverages will be provided. A lot of brands have ambassadors coming up the coast in the summer, but Patagonia events tend to have a great message and value.

Friday night, May 31 is the induction ceremony for the New Jersey Surfing Hall of Fame. Celebrated LBI photog Michael Baytoff is being inducted this year. The induction starts at 5 p.m. and will be held at Algonquin Arts in Manasquan.

The summer paddle season kicks in this Saturday with South End Surf ’N Paddle’s “Hop Sauce Tune Up” Race. This has become a great tradition to kick off the summer of races and also a day of drinking. Race starts at 9 a.m. on the Taylor Avenue waterfront.

Hop Sauce Fest runs 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Park. If you’re into great food with a little spice, craft beer and original music, this is one you won’t want to miss.

June 6-9 is the Lighthouse International Film Festival, which is boasting some very notable films this year, none the least of which are the surf film offerings: “Cuban Wave Riders,” “Girl on a Wave,” “Where the Desert Meets the Ocean” and the much-talked-about “White Rhino.”

On June 15, Brighton Beach Surf Shop will host its annual Board Swap from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Then at 4:30, there’s the Memorial Paddle Out for Richard Lisiewski, New Jersey’s first surfer, shaper (out of necessity, there were no others in the ’40s) and founder of Brant Beach/Brighton Beach Surf Shop here on the Island. Richard was a member of both the New Jersey and East Coast surfing halls of fame. He passed this winter at the age of 90.

On June 24, the Sandy Avocado Surf Camp opens for the summer. This is a surf and skim camp that was formerly LBI Skim Camp, featuring daily and weekly camps as well as private lessons and season passes. This could be a great camp with engaging instructors for your kids.

joncoen@thesandpaper.net

 

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