Perfect Waves and Weather May Have Produced the Best Clam Jam YetRandy Townsend and Royce Weber
Early autumn has become somewhat of a “festival season” on LBI. It’s a perfect time of year for these big events – ephemeral weather without the blazing heat or maniacal pace of the tourist season, plus a draw to bring post-Labor Day revenue to the Island.
And most of these events are pretty easy to plan around the amazing October weather. Of course, a muddy Chowderfest or harsh nor’easter for the 18 Mile Run is not ideal, but you can still have a successful event in anything short of a hurricane.
But the Jetty Clam Jam, which has become a locally favorite end to the festival season since its inception in 2007, has to watch the weather – as well as the swell, the wind, the tide and the sandbars – because without good waves, there is no contest.
Jetty understands this and chooses the first weekend after the other aforementioned festivals, putting the event “on call” for the best weekend day of waves and weather. And if conditions fail to materialize, they just keep pushing it back.
On Saturday, Oct. 20, everything came together in a way it never has before for what most are calling the best contest yet. Royce Weber and Randy Townsend, both of Surf City, are the new Clam Jam champs.
Jeremy DeFillipis, one of Jetty’s co-owners, handles the marketing end of the company, which includes most of the Clam Jam prep. In the end, he makes the final decision on what day the event will run. Every October he goes through the drama of pulling the proverbial trigger.
“Every year, I get all these calls and texts a week out asking me when I’m going to run it. But basically, I try not to think about it until three days before. I send out a few e-mails to people who are really tuned into the forecast,” said DeFilippis.
The last two years, every weekend in October had been a bust, forcing the event to run on chilly November days. And while these have had their own flannel-and-hot-soup character, the sunshine and warm offshore winds made Saturday a great day for all the families that came down to watch and participate. In some cases, there were three generations on the beach.
“When there are solid waves, it’s fun for everyone involved from us to the surfers,” DeFilippis said. “It’s so hard to run an event on call, but it’s paid off six years in a row now. There are 96 guys surfing, plus the sponsors and judges. Everyone has jobs, families, weddings and all sorts of plans. I’m so thankful that there are people who clear those weekends.
“I don’t know what I would do if they couldn’t,” DeFilippis added. “It all reflects on why we started this. They’re not just amazing surfers – they are great people.”
It turned out to be a banner day, with a beach full of excited surfers, fans, kids and dogs. Pizza was provided by Speakeasy Pizzeria, and cold clams and oysters were served by Mud City Crab House and the Black Whale Bar and Restaurant.
Harvey Cedars has been one of New Jersey’s most cherished surf spots for decades. A popular summer break in the longboard era, it became a hot spot with shorter surfboards and performance surfing in the ’70s. The offshore bathymetry and shallow break make for strong, hollow waves with heavy lips.
However, the 2010 Army Corps of Engineers beach replenishment project basically killed the waves in Harvey Cedars, covering the magical sandbar. The borough has had its moments in the past two years, but good days have been rare. The 2010 and 2011 Clam Jams were held in Holgate.
Even with a mixed swell, there was considerable doubt. But when surfers arrived at 7 a.m., they were greeted by a 3- to 5-foot swell, with sets well overhead. The wind was light and the surf was mostly clean. But the real story was the power.
The wind came out of the southeast in the middle of the day. However, a westerly breeze kicked in for the afternoon, making for ideal offshore conditions. Multiple boards were broken outside the contest zone, but there were also countless tubes to be ridden. And spectators, who sat with their backs to the dunes right on top of the action thanks to the close sandbars, called it an “arena-like” atmosphere.
"Overall, we couldn't have asked for a better day,” Weber said. “We had great waves in Harvey Cedars with all of our friends around. It’s the whole local surf community out there supporting each other. It was just so much fun.”
Since the very first Clam Jam, the format has been two-man teams picked at random with one surfer 29 or younger, and one older surfer. It not only brings the generations together, but also creates an equalizer. Random pairings keep the contest from becoming too competitive. This year, there were 96 surfers and a good number of waves for everyone.
“For everything to come together like that – great waves, a mixed swell, west/southwest winds and the tide not swamping the scaffolding like it would have a day earlier – the stars must have all been aligned. There were great barrels all day,” offered Townsend.
The teams are a story in themselves, such as Adam Frack and his father, Jessie Frack, who almost went head to head. Bill Willem of Surf City, a top competitor on LBI in the 1970s, was paired with his son Brendan. They surfed to the third round, where they fell to Bill’s other son, Conor, and Ryan Kelly of Barnegat Light. Townsend and Weber, who have wrangled with each other at several professional events this year, were odds-on favorites from the beginning, but such strong teams are the nature of the draw.
“There are some underground guys that totally stepped up,” DeFilippis said. “Chris Moscufo was ripping, John Bonner always surfs well, Brett Michallis, and Graham Mergenthaler. Every year, we get a few new guys come out. This year, we had Eric Perie, who grew up surfing Cedars in the ’80s. I had never heard of him and there he was, getting barrels.”
There were countless moments of excitement. Eighteen-year-old Kyle Calandra of Ship Bottom almost landed a kickflip on a closeout and, in the next round, found the barrel of the heat to propel him and his partner to the next round. Cory Higgins, another co-owner of Jetty, was partnered with Beach Haven’s best surfer, Josh Law. While Law generally carried them far into the event, it was Higgins’ six-point tube ride that got them into the semi-final.
“I never thought I would be surfing all day to the semifinal,” admitted Higgins. “I was just out there with this big grin on my face the whole time. And to beat my business partner in a heat was just perfect.”
Higgins and Law lost to Townsend and Weber in the semifinal. In the other semi, Conor Willem and Kelly beat Mergenthaler and Vinny Rossi.
Beach Haven.'s Ric Anastasi managed a professional panel of judges, assuring that everyone was fairly scored. Beach marshals Bill Machotka and Randy Budd as well as tabulators Freddy Davis and Haley Johnson oversaw the smoothest event to date. A troop of volunteers all stepped up to keep things moving so that everyone got a chance to surf.
The final truly featured four of LBI’s best surfers. Jetty team rider and captain of the Harvey Cedars Beach Patrol, Townsend won the Clam Jam with his partner, Luke Reynolds, in 2009. He is LBI’s most successful surfer, but is now seeing a challenge from the likes of Conor Willem, a commercial clammer, whom Townsend mentored. Willem and Ryan Kelly, whose family owns Kelly’s Old Barney restaurant in Barnegat Light and was dangerous on his forehand all day, were not about to lie down.
With the sun making its descent, the waves took on a golden glow. While Weber went for a few air-reverses, the finals became a barrel-riding showdown between Willem and Townsend, where Townsend put up an 8.5 (of a possible 10) for a frontside tube and also landed a fantastic air reverse. He and Weber won, 20.5 to 18.5, and a few moments later were holding the coveted Clam Jam trophy, carved in 2007 by surfer Joel Dramis.
"I thought Royce surfed great," said Townsend afterward. “We were partners by the luck of the draw, but I would be stoked to be partnered with anyone there. It's all family to me.”
The day concluded with an afterparty at Sunset Park in Harvey Cedars, where everyone listened to a live performance by Rob Armenti, enjoyed a buffet courtesy of Mud City Crab House and reminisced about epic waves.
The finalists’ names will go on a small plaque to be added to the trophy, which will sit at the Black Whale until next October, when it’s time again to start watching the forecasts and planning the event.