Liquid Lines

The Sweet and the Bitter: Hurricane Leslie Toys With Surfers’ Emotions

Your Guide to the Week of Waves That Was
By JON COEN | Sep 13, 2012
Photo by: Ann Coen The dolphins seemed to enjoy the surf as much as the surfers last Thursday.

For several months before this week, the surf has not been very good. In fact, it was even pretty lame – even by summer standards. And with Hurricane Leslie lighting up the entire East Coast with swell, I debated whether I should just jump right into blathering about how much surf we’ve had.

But for those who like little anecdotes, I have a little something for you. This weekend, after the wind had blown the surf out considerably on Saturday, I decided to celebrate my half-Irish heritage. So I went down to the Ship Bottom boat ramp, gladly paid my $10 that went to charity and took it all in.

I was a little confused upon entering when I heard the band playing “Sweet Caroline” and eventually “YMCA.” I’m told that Neil Diamond has been referred to as the “Jewish Elvis,” so I assume he doesn’t have any Celtic ties. Are any of the Village People Irish? I have to imagine the Native American, Puerto Rican fella or the black gentleman are likely not.

Getting a little hungry, I ran down the food options: BBQ, kielbasa, cheesesteaks, knish and empanadas. No fish ’n’ chips truck? Funny, but when I visited Ireland I don’t remember Mexican cuisine being that prevalent. (On a side note, that La Bamba place on Bay Avenue in Manahawkin has a bangin’ fish taco. Very authentic Baja-style. Check it out.)

As I waited to hear some bagpipers, wondering if there was a new potato famine going on, I checked out the wares. Hmm, the colors of the Irish flag on a tie-die shirt. Interesting … While there were some fine red-headed peddlers selling handmade sweaters and scallycaps from the Emerald Isle, there were also a number of Claddaghs and Celtic crosses … made in China.

Thankfully, the boys of the Ocean County Emerald Society Pipes and Drums saved the day. I found a nice lady selling Irish soda bread and left before Shorty Long played.

Strange festival.

And now to the heart of the matter, which was the waves: the wonderful, terrible, pulsing, glassy, frustrating, windy and consistent waves that have been breaking courtesy of Hurricane Leslie now for a straight week.

As I was writing last column, hurricanes can be difficult to get along with. It seems like the ones with female names are always changing their minds (I’m gonna pay for that crack.) Therefore, we’ve learned to approach them with a good bit of skepticism. Or we do in theory. Once again, I let myself get wooed, sweet talked by the forecasts that were calling for six-to-eight-foot surf on Sunday with northwest winds.

But let’s go back a little. Following a respectable week of surf to end out summer, Hurricane Leslie started delivering a discernable line last Tuesday. As expected, Wednesday morning delivered a whole lot of closeouts.

Thursday was one of those days that restore your faith in New Jersey surf. I was on the beach at sunrise watching perfect lines spill through. I paddled out and found it chest high with head high sets, peeling in both directions as clean as it gets with clear blue water. You could drop in, set up and really get some nice turns. The wind laid down in the evening and Ship Bottom in particular was fun until dark.

The one thing everyone agreed upon was the dolphin show. I don’t know that I remember so many dolphins playing so close to the surfers. They were riding waves, breeching and generally enjoying themselves as if exuberant that we finally had waves. A few people said they actually got a little nervous. I went underwater at one point (seriously, try it the next time you see dolphins) and actually heard them talking. I don’t fully understand them, but they said something about being happy it was September.

And the best part about it was the swell was supposed to get bigger for Sunday.

Friday was about the same size, but the wind came up earlier. It was bad timing because when the breeze was light, the tide was too low. Still, shoulder high waves in trunks are nothing to take for granted. Besides, all the models had Hurricane Leslie sitting right where she was and ramping up to Cat. 2 strength. Sunday, Sunday, Sunday …

The south wind picked up on Saturday. And that was no big deal because Sunday would be straight offshore. I actually grabbed a few waves in Surf City on Saturday, and although it was sideshore, there was plenty of swell and if you found the right chunky section, you could really connect the dots and have fun. Actually, in theory, a little bit of south swell in the water from 20-knot gusts would help to break up the 12-second groundswell on Sunday. Because Sunday would be the day. Even that horrific humidity was supposed to give way to cool, dry air. Frankly, the surf looked pretty fun on Saturday evening, with peaks in the south wind, not perfect, but very rideable. The kiteboarders were out there doing 40-foot airs. Bob Selfridge kited until he had knots in his legs. But there were no takers on the surf. Everyone was waiting on – you guessed it – Sunday.

What actually happened way out in the middle of the ocean is that Leslie moved very little for days. She found a comfortable spot and just kind of hung out. That’s why we had such a prolonged period of swell. Unfortunately, by spinning in one place, she also stirred up a lot of water from the bottom of the ocean. This cooler water actually caused her to lose strength. She was downgraded to a tropical storm on Friday. That’s when the models started to fall off.

I was particularly excited for Sunday, thinking of some of the classic hurricanes of the past: Bob, Birtha, Floyd, Felix, Bill and Earl. It had been a long time since we had huge peaks and warm water.

And then we awoke on Sunday to funky, chest-high waves and north winds. It was disappointing, to say the least. I got scattered reports through the day that one or two spots at the South End were good. But everyone I talked to had a sort of disclaimer that the good pulses didn’t last too long. And it was far from six-to-eight-foot peaks in a straight offshore wind.

And apparently, I wasn’t the only one getting pumped for the day. The weatherman’s pronouncement that “Hurricane Leslie won’t be a threat to land, but it will deliver high surf to beaches along the East Coast this weekend” had every yahoo with a funshape down to “catch some of those big swells” the newsfolk were talking about. In addition to everyone giving me the surf conditions, locals were flabbergasted at all the PT Cruisers with surfboards on the roof, pink wetsuits, folks going right on lefts, safari hats and reef boots. I think I saw one guy with webbed gloves. It looked like a version of Swami’s in California, minus the peeling waves.

I wound up skipping it all, coming back and finding decent lines right in front of my house. Nothing great, but plenty of waves.

Monday morning was similarly disappointing. The wind was hard out of the north/northwest. Again, the story was long, walled closeouts. The wind did straighten out in the afternoon and the swell regenerated to marginal results. But I’m sure somewhere, someone got something worth Facebooking.

A lot of locals headed north for this swell. The one way to avoid closeouts is to go where the reefs and points hold groundswell better. Marc Halikas and Andrew Paris ventured up to Rhode Island and scored Pt. Judith, where they found Jack Ryan already camped out. Andrew Croft and Brian Coen ventured further into New England and Steve Carpitella was already posted up in Rhody when the swell hit. While they got waves late week, New England suffered when the swell died even more than we did. But heading to the Newport area on long period swells is always a good call.

And now into comp news. Surf City’s Royce Weber is continuing to have a very good contest season. In late August he won the Nike Locked Stock and Barrel in Rockaway, N.Y., and made the finals of the Smith Optics Garden State Grudge Match qualifier in Seaside Park. Last week, he was up at the Unsound “Right Coast Cup” presented by Quiksilver.

You may recall that about a year ago, the entire surfing world was fixated on the East Coast. It’s been a full 12 months since the inaugural Quiksilver New York Pro had epic surf from Hurricane Katia. And amid airs, tube rides and seven-slash lefts, Kelly Slater and Australian Owen Wright had a monumental ASP World Tour battle in amazing tropical swell.

For those of you who are passive surf fans, professional surfing has many different levels. The ASP is the main governing body of pro surfing. It has its World Tour, which now has the 32 elite surfers in the world. That determines the world champ. Below that is a series of Prime events, in which the World Tour dudes generally surf against the hungry pros trying to get on the Tour. Below that are the star events, rated 1-6, obviously six being the highest. Then there are pro events of all sizes that offer cash purses and are not sanctioned by the ASP. These are the majority of pro events in the East Coast, where guys who get paychecks to surf mix it up with top amateurs. LBI has a handful of pro surfers, but they generally have other jobs as well.

The Quik Pro New York was one of 12 World Tour events. I’ve heard through the grapevine that Quik invested $11 million into that contest. It chose not to host the event again this year.

That in itself was a bummer for the whole region. Most surfers will never get to see Kelly, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Taj Burrow, Josh Kerr and company get to surf in person. There were tons of folks from LBI who made the three-hour trip up to Long Island. Of course they saw the electrifying final rounds, including Slater’s no-handed 360 for a perfect 10. But we’re not just spectators. Everyone I know surfed somewhere on Long Island before and after the contest. My favorite story is Parko asking Bill Willem if he thought the current would suck them into the contest zone.

So, hopefully, Quiksilver or some other company brings an event back to the East Coast in the heart of hurricane season. In the meantime, Unsound Surf, which had run its own pro event for more than 10 years before Quiksilver bought the big show, went back to running a local-style pro event with Quik. It drew the top surfers from New York and New Jersey, with a handful of skilled Floridians.

Conor Willem and Randy Townsend competed as well. Townsend has been in the finals of two Unsound Pros in the past. Willem lost in the first round to Jeremy Johnston, of Florida, who has a few Unsound titles already.

Weber had to surf against Randy Townsend. That’s always the way it goes – LBI surfers wind up in the same heat. So you always have one Island guy knocking out another instead of both of them advancing. Weber got a late barrel to win the heat. In the second round, Weber lost to Ocean City pro Rob Kelly, but also beat Andrew Gesler, also of Ocean City, who has been paid to surf since high school.

In the third round, Weber fell to Tanner Stromenger, one of the biggest names coming out of the national amateur ranks right now.

“I had a couple of reverse attempts that didn’t pan out, so he definitely beat me fair and square. But Jeremy Johnston came up to me later randomly and gave me a couple compliments, so that helped my confidence – which is my weakness,” Weber told me afterward.

In amateur contest news, the Central Jersey ESA ran its fourth event of the year here on LBI in very solid surf on Sunday. Holgate’s Brian Bowker took first in the Open (actually taking home some cash) and second in Junior Men’s. Manahawkin’s Rick Huegi kept his perfect season alive by acing the Senior Men’s. Beach Haven’s ‘Aloha’ Ric Anastasi got second in the longboard and fourth in the Senior Men’s. Jesse Frack netted a Legends Shortboard win to his resume, and Kali Emery walked away with first in the Women’s.

This event was training for the ESA Eastern Championships on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in October. However, points from this year do not count toward qualification until next year. The locals who have really excelled this year will compete in the Northeast Regionals in the spring and those who do well there will be invited to the Easterns in 2013.

The Belmar Pro’s Am Weekend went off in solid surf, and LBI locals made another great showing. As a matter of fact, there’s a good little story behind this one. During a mid-round heat, Pete Machotka, of Manahawkin, found a little cover-up section, but both of his contact lenses came out after the wave. It all happened during a downpour and he came in to the beach in a panic, to try to get them back in. The first two people there to calm him down and help were Dalton Johnson of Point Pleasant and Beach Haven’s Josh Law. Eventually, Ship Bottom eye doctor and huge surf fan Freddie Davis intervened. She was able to get her fingers into Machotka’s eyeballs and get him squared away so he could go out and advance to the next round. It’s always good when your ophthalmologist is into surf contests.

The real irony is that when Machotka surfed his way to the final, he met Johnson and Law, the very guys who helped him get out of that round. Congratulations to Law, who took second place, and Machotka, who took fourth. This weekend is the Foster’s Belmar Pro, serious business for serious money.

All in all, Leslie did provide seven days of waves. That just doesn’t happen very often, especially when we’re still enjoying water temps in the 70s. And while there were a lot of junky sessions, some folks found the right high tide nooks and protected crannies to get fun sessions. The disgusting humidity has finally buggered off, replaced by cool autumn air. The days may be a little shorter, but they are idyllic. And we’ll try not to get too excited about the prospects of this next storm that could be Nadine, forming way out off Africa.

Ahhh, who are we kidding – we’re already believing the hype.



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