Liquid Lines

Winter Waves Either Great or Terrible – We Can’t Decide

But There’s Some Good News to Share
By Jon Coen | Mar 20, 2019
Photo by: Kyle Gronostajski While some are calling this a dismal winter for waves, others are very happy with the consistent clean surf. Chris Huch, seen here, seems very appreciative of the many moderate south swells.

Not sure if you’ve heard this, but this has been the worst winter for waves.

Surfline has been using words like “dismal” and “general poor surf.” The guys who charge aren’t so happy either. You know, the surfers who are pulling into those death dredgers at low tide on the biggest days of the winter when the wind is offshore at 80 mph and the water is 38 while the rest of us struggle to get two good waves among the shivery beat-downs. And that’s if you even paddle out on those swells.

Yes, apparently, the real deal fellas are not happy with two swells a week that have all been in the waist-to-head high range with a high percentage of favorable northwest winds, as opposed to southwest, aka, “the devil wind.” Granted, we haven’t had five giant nor’easters in a row like last March.

They just don’t appreciate consistency without a ton of closeouts, without offshore winds killing it in hours and without those brutal three-week flatspells. Instead of those two days of bombing surf, we’ve had weeks and weeks of fun-sized south swells.

I guess they’re bummed because despite all the fun size and offshores, we haven’t been able to hold “The Eddy” in Harvey Cedars. (That’s New Jersey’s big wave contest in memory of Eddy Spaghetti, the legendary charger from West Orange who would come down for every big day in the 1970s.) It is admittedly dull compared to last March when LBI saw a double-overhead swell, snow, wind advisories, lightning and a fire ...  and that was all in one day.

I don’t know about you, but I think this has been a damn fun winter of surf. Yes, the ocean has been cold. And yes, we haven’t had any raging haymaker swells. But I will take all the fun-sized, rideable, mostly empty surf we’ve had.

Now on to more serious matters. I love nothing better than when I have good news to report. I mean, I’m not going to sit here and lie to you to make things sound good. We’ve got a certain world leader that makes an estimated 15 false claims a day. Any idea who that would be? (Hint: He doesn’t do it in complete sentences.)

I could tell you there’s a low-pressure system forming in the ocean that’s going to send us a full week of perfect waves without any onshore wind, but that would be stretching the truth. I could tell you that the rest of March is going to be epic for surf but that would be a lie. I could tell you that the ocean has already warmed up to 60 degrees, but that would be a full-on fake news.

I’m not that guy.

But in terms of that good news, I can say that our beaches are in very, very good condition right now. And by that, I mean the shape and size. And wait there’s more!

We don’t have any beach replenishment on the docket for the foreseeable future.

Double score.

Having big, wide beaches tends to make everyone happy, from locals to vacationers to elected officials. It means that for the time being, we have good protection from storms and plenty of towel space in the summer. More butts on the beach, more badges to sell for the mayors.

You don’t have to be an old salt hay farmer to know that a coastal knock-out punch could pop up at any time, but I have to say that long-range guidance doesn’t suggest it for the rest of March. It can certainly happen in April, but the chances trend down the farther we get into the spring.

Oh, we’ve had storms this winter, but they’ve all been low-pressure systems taking an inland track up the coast, resulting in south winds and south swells. (And since I’m being honest, I love those.) Those storms don’t eat at the beach. It’s the brutal nor’easters that come hungrily up the coast and gobble up all that sand, leaving our Island vulnerable to dune washover. Of course, most of the damage is from bay flooding, and nor’easters will flood the coast whether you have a Wildwood-wide beach or not.

But yes, the beaches are mostly in good shape, aside from the most southern beach in Holgate, but hopefully the new Wooden (and steel) Jetty will help to build that up by summer.

And this is like hitting the daily double because when our beaches are in shape, we don’t need another round of replenishment, which is the most evil of all necessary evils.

Beach folk constantly rag on beach replenishment. And for good reason. While it occasionally helps the sand set up for waves, it usually destroys the sandbars. And imagine what some of those nice swells we had this winter would have done with some old school jetties that have been buried.

Wait ... don’t interrupt my daydream …

OK, I’m good.

Now, I don’t have enough experience to speak to the effects on fishing, but I have never heard an angler say, “Man, we slayed ’em over by the slurry.”

And we all know beach replenishment in the summer certainly detracts from the beachgoing experience. But the dredge companies seem to like to be below the Mason Dixon line in the winter and above it in the summer. I’d say we can’t really blame them, but they make the GDP of a small country off your federal tax dollars even on their days off.

But like I said, necessary evil. Are we ready to just let our barrier island go down to Davy Jones? Maybe this will buy us a few more years of ignorant bliss as the waters of the world rise up around us.

Barring major storm damage that gets classified as a disaster, there might be federal money allocated. But for now, our beaches get a clean bill of health. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t have LBI on its dance card until fall of 2022.

Beach folks, rejoice.

BAG “NIGHTMARE” FOLLOW-UP: I got some feedback last week after my column about the Stafford resident who claimed the plastic bag ban was making his grocery trips a “nightmare.” I took the liberty of mailing him a handful of reusable shopping bags.

Most of the online reaction was supportive. A few groups took actual offense to it. One brainiac went so far as to call me an a-hole on the grounds that “oil is not a fossil fuel.” How do you argue with that science?

But Mr. Ralph Trimarchi wrote and thanked me for the bags. He said he thought it was funny and had a good laugh.

I was genuinely happy to hear that in 2019 we can still find the humor in a situation even if we’re on different sides of it. Mr. Trimarchi went on to say that his point is that local government should be worried about the day to day running of Stafford, not environmental policy.

I may disagree with that. In fact, I think the most effective movements in human history have come from dedicated folks and small-town officials. However, I respect Ralph’s response and his sense of humor. Good stuff.

MORE FUN SOUTH SWELLS: As mentioned earlier, most of us haven’t had many complaints about this winter of surf. Considering some patterns we get in, where we have ragged swells, bad winds and poorly timed tides in between weeks of freezing northwest winds and high pressure, I would think the consistent rideable waves would be a blessing. Also, since daylight saving time kicked in, we’ve had an extra hour of light. March already sees longer days, but now the sun is setting over two hours later than it was in December. It’s a bit tougher in the morning, but even that will get better as we move into May.

We had two more of these swells recently, going back to Monday, March 11. The morning surf was clean on the incoming with head-high peaks and after the full tide in the middle of the day, there were still waves for the afternoon crew.

Another front passed through last Friday and the wind went offshore just around dark, which oftentimes is a bad sign. The size drops overnight and the swell period gets too long. Fortunately, the wind remained light overnight and there was still a decent amount of swell in the morning. It did get tricky, however, as the tide dropped and the wind picked up. But even with modest swell in the water, when the wind backed off and the tide began to fill in, there were surprisingly fun waves up and down the Island. The sandbars had a unique look and if you were in the right spot, there were some great peelers to be had.

The rest of the week still doesn’t show any massive swell, but there could be some fun, little waves on Friday into Saturday, particularly if you’ve sat out the winter and are looking to get back out there.

BUDGET WOES: Well, the Trump administration released its 2020 budget, which is record breaking in its spending. I’m just wondering when we’re gonna hear a peep from all the “fiscal conservatives” on this. Of course, as we plunge farther into debt with this budget, there are some government cuts – things like healthcare and education, but also to the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, two agencies that protect clean water and healthy beaches.

Keep in mind that Ocean County was happy to vote for Trump to the tune of about 179,000 to about 87,000 for that Clinton lady. And Ocean County relies heavily on a clean ocean and healthy beaches. Hey, we all love our beaches and bay, right?

But ask any business owner about the summers of the “syringe tide” in the late ’80s. It was a serious detriment to our economy. And that’s not even taking into account that after a long, sometimes harsh winter, the people of Ocean County are looking forward to swimming in clean water and enjoying a healthy beach this summer.

The Surfrider Foundation is urging folks to email Congress to vote down the budget. We need the EPA and NOAA to keep collecting data and testing our water quality. I know the people of Ocean County are generally clear headed. You can go to and they have an easy form to tell Booker, Menendez and Van Drew or Kim to vote it down in the name of our waters.

MARCH HAPS: Are you seeing some signs of life? Yeah? Cool. Just don’t get too ahead of yourself. I’ve heard a few fools about muttering the word “spring.”

Not here. Not now. We’re entering the period know as late winter and that runs right into early May. Slow your roll.

We don’t ever stop our outdoor activity here, but now we’re getting back into the season where you can do it without nine technologically advanced layers.

March 30 is the rescheduled South End Surf N’ Paddle Polar Paddle. This attracted paddlers from three states away in 2018. Unfortunately, the January thaw didn’t quite cooperate this year and it had to be rescheduled to late March. Don’t worry, the bay will still be frigid.

That’s seemingly the kickoff to something of an event season as Alliance for a Living Ocean will hold the High Bar Harbor Spring Clean Up. According to ALO, the area of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park is a major collection point of primarily plastic pollution due to the currents of Barnegat Bay. All attendants will be given gloves, bags or buckets, data cards and other necessary clean-up supplies. The data cards are to track what’s being collected. That information comes in handy as we attempt to curb pollution at the source.

Easter is very late this year, which is mostly a good thing. All too often, Easter falls in March and Island weather is still miserable. You drive down the Boulevard in your flannel with the heat on, watching a few families of visitors walk around in shorts and flip-flops. They’re not kidding anyone. They’re freezing.

Hopefully, it will bring more folks down to their seasonal homes on the weekend of April 20-21 and we’ll get some sun. Earth Day is actually April 22, so that could be a nice tie-in as well.

Beyond that, St. Mary’s Catholic Church is sponsoring an LBI Beach Sweep with Alliance for a Living Ocean on April 27, a community shore building event designed to bring all people together and make our shores beautiful and healthy. They’re quoting Pope Francis, who said, “Any harm done to the environment is harm done to humanity.”

Gotta love that Frank.

In closing, if you think it’s been a great winter for surf, hopefully it keeps on being great. If not, hopefully our luck changes.


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