Liquid Lines

Communing With Sea Creatures, Bad Tattoos, Blue Hues and Great May Waves

This Month Has Been Alive With Swell and Wildlife
By JON COEN | May 17, 2017
Photo by: Mark Halikas Andrew Paris makes the drop on his Stewart Tipster. The waves were fun last week and the water cerulean blue.

In addition to addressing swells, tides, wind and results from the women’s 25- to 45-year old 12-foot elite paddleboard division at the latest race, Liquid Lines is a great place to poke fun at folks. Sure, I roast tourists. But I get shots at overly “local” locals from time to time. Over the years, I’ve had fun with everyone from litterbugs to homophobes, hipsters and rednecks, not to mention countless jabs at cover bands. But I realize there’s nothing as much fun as making fun of myself, so here’s this:

I got my first tattoo in 1993. Back then, most tattoos were on bikers, Marines and rockers. I was none of these. I was a young surfer, and not a very good one. Paddling out and getting waves was the most important challenge in my life (well, that and bra straps).

Like most young adults, I was learning the truths of the real world. I was listening to Fishbone and fairly averse to newfound responsibilities. The water was freedom. I assume it’s similar on LBI today for 33-year-olds who are told they can’t live in their parents’ beach house forever.

Either way, surfing is an escape.

Growing up reading surf magazines, I assumed nowhere in the world had worse surf than New Jersey. But a few weeks into college on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I discovered I’d miscalculated, by a lot. Nevertheless, I was out every chance I got, on a board that was too long and thin, blowing set waves and hopping frantically.

But the most amazing thing was seeing dolphins. I don’t want to come off like some new-age Karma peddler, but there’s a special area just outside the sandbar. It’s too far out for the swimmers and too close for a boat, a zone shared by waveriders and dolphins. And whether it was 1963, 1993 or today, coming into contact with playing dolphins is special to surfers. You can see them from land or from a boat, but actually being immersed in their world, hearing them underwater and seeing their eyes when they come up for air, is on another level.

I was fascinated by it, so enamored by this communion with wildlife that I decided to get a tattoo.

The first ink shop I hit up was called Fat Larry’s, in Delaware. But Fat Larry (not ironically named) wanted $20 just to draw the thing, and that was half my budget for the project. I wound up getting a simple 3-inch bottlenose with too many colors by a Panamanian with a recent tongue piercing who didn’t speak English while I listened to “The Chronic” by Dr. Dre. That is the story of my first tattoo.

When word reached home, my parents were none too happy about it. It didn’t matter that I had a cute little marine mammal on my shoulder. A tattoo was a red flag that their son was into heavy drugs. And truth be told, I used to whack down five ZIMAs at a basement party. (Don’t laugh, I bet ZIMA makes a comeback this summer.) Yes, this was over a tiny dolphin tattoo.

In the following years, every girl I knew got a very similar dolphin tattoo, some on their feet, some on the small of their back. I almost became immune to the ridicule.

“Hey, Jon, we saw a dolphin breaching today, and he had a little tattoo of you by his dorsal fin.”

Twelve years later I had it covered up, although not without my friend/tattoo artist adding his own insult while injuring me. I now have a curiously large sparrow by my shoulder blade.

I can’t keep count of my tattoos today. I have some souvenir tattoos, a traditional mermaid, a banner with an ex’s name, some punk band logos and Old Barney. Much respect to the LBI establishments that employed me before ink was so acceptable. My mom still doesn’t like them, but she’s convinced I’m not a junkie. And the dolphin has long since been harpooned.

What’s the point of all this besides embarrassing myself? Well, on Sunday, I was sitting in the line-up after Mother’s Day huevos rancheros when a surfer freaked out, claiming he’d seen a shark. It turned out to be a sizable pod of dolphins. (He seemed spooked anyway and left the water.) I sat there, watching them play rather actively.

Then the biggest set of the afternoon jumped up on the outside. I could see only the top of the lip from where I was, but there was a huge amount of splashing. Then as the overhead bowl came fully into view, I watched two dolphins riding in the face of the wave and jump clear out of the water. They trimmed down the line and took another leap. This was followed by more acrobatics.

Say whatever you want about my first regrettable tattoo, but experiencing graceful and intelligent creatures in their playground is still amazing.

MAY DAYS: Welcome to our first Section 2 of summer 2017. Any mention of such season sounded silly as I started hashing out this column sitting by the fireplace on Saturday, a chilly rain beating down on the house. Now that you have plenty of ammo for embarrassing me this summer in the lineup, let’s get to some surf talk.

May is turning out to be a very good month for swell. In fact, the last two weekends have been stellar, which is nice considering we’re about to dive head first into the time of year when the swell drops off considerably. They were two different storms and two different swells, giving us pretty similar results, namely 3- to 5-foot waves, a few barrels and plenty of offshore winds.

Last weekend, starting May 5 and 6, brought strong south winds, building the surf up to overhead. The cleanup was a little slow to happen last Sunday, but eventually offshore winds ruled the day, and there were plenty of peaks up and down the Island for the score. Florida boy and former World Surf League stud Cory Lopez was in town for an event at Farias and got to sample some beefy Surf City bowls. It was fun even if you weren’t the former No. 3 ranked surfer on the WCT. All reports were that the surf got very good again before dark.

I think the best surprise of the springtime came last Monday as the hard offshore winds shaped up a few peaks up to head high. While the surf had size and shape, what was most intriguing was the water color. I have no idea where that clear aqua blue came from, but it was insane. The swell fell off slowly through the day, but the offshore winds and the hues remained until evening.

The rest of last week may have had a wave here or there, but it wasn’t until Saturday that the next swell started building. While we were expecting rain (All… Day… Long...), I’m not sure that any of us were expecting such a fierce storm. Pretty much everyone in Beach Haven just had their shoes off, wading through the chilly floodwaters all day. The gusts got downright nasty in the evening.

The wind switched to northwest during the evening and did beat the swell down some. While it had peaked at 8 feet overnight, the dawn patrol session at the top spots still had overhead surf. Still, waves are waves, and surfers did their best tap dance to get left bowls and still spent quality time with Mom. Again, it was pretty good all over the Island on this one. The swell stayed solid through the day, but when that secondary front came through with renewed howling northwesterlies in the evening, that was pretty much it. Let’s hope we see a few more of those banger days before October.

TOPICAL TROPICAL: Each spring, the leading tropical meteorologists in the country go ahead and make a forecast for the whole of the upcoming hurricane season. There are about three major groups that make predictions (that anyone listens to, anyway). They spend the season collecting data, making observations and playing Dungeons and Dragons. At the end of the season, when they get the forecast correct, they all pop on their virtual reality glasses and attend the same virtual reality party where they don’t know how to talk to the virtual female avatars.

This year’s prediction is looking pretty average. The University of Colorado, one of the leaders in the field, is calling for 11 named storms, four hurricanes and two major hurricanes for the Atlantic this season. To give you an idea, an average season has 12.1 named storms, 6.4 hurricanes, and 2.7 major hurricanes. The Weather Channel and NOAA are in close agreement. If you’ve ever experienced seven-tenths of a major hurricane, they are something else. (Sorry, bad weather blogger humor, but the nerds got it.)

One thing to note – it seems we may shift back into an El Niño pattern by late summer, which generally means less activity in the tropics, but more-consistent surf the following winter. I’ll have more on this as the eggheads update these forecasts on June 1.

For some readers who are amateur weather geeks like myself, I wanted to make note that the trusted weather blog by Jeff Masters at Weather Underground has morphed into something new. Masters, co-founder and director of meteorology at, is still blogging about weather phenomena (tropical being his concentration), but his work is now under the blog Category 6, which is a collection of several meteorologists/bloggers’ writing. In case you were looking for his blog, he’s still at it. And when we get into September, he becomes a big part of our lives.

POTTY TALK: Gina Scala’s story in The SandPaper last week outlined Ship Bottom’s plan for new portable restrooms. As the story noted, these are not simply porta-potties, but mobile restrooms that sound a lot like the type you might see at a festival, or a scaled-down version of the ones on the boardwalk in Asbury Park.

LBI is in dire need of public restrooms in the summertime. Some locals might moan about this as a “not in my backyard” issue, but we have to be a bit more flexible. One of the proposed locations is so close to my house I could actually run in and pee if my downstairs bathroom was occupied. I don’t mind it being there at all. These units are clean, easy and logical.

Additionally, all the towns on LBI should be thinking about some kind of restroom/bathhouse option adjacent to the beach. I think we’re poor hosts to charge for badges when the closest public restroom may be a mile away.

ALL THIS LOCAL STUFF: The most relevant thing to happen in the regional surf scene was last weekend at the New Jersey Surfing Hall of Fame induction ceremony. A new class was inducted at the Flanders Hotel and Business Center in Ocean City. Congratulations to this year’s class of amazing surfers and influencers, including Charlie Kunes, Jack Meyers, Gary Finnigan, Bill Minder, Kevin Casey, Tony G, Jeff Arensman, Larry Friedel, Tom McClaren, Brian Heritage, Mark Neustadter, Tom O’Brien and Sandy Ordille.

None of the 2017 inductees is from the LBI area although our own Jack Ryan has taken the reins as interim president. There were some local connections, however. While most of us knew the late Jack Meyers (surfer, artist, surf industry rep, athlete) as a Manasquan fixture, his bio made it very clear that his roots were on LBI.

Farias owner Brian Farias was in attendance and also donated a board painted by Meyers, which can be seen in the Ship Bottom store. There was also an exhibit of the Moss Rehab Tandem Therapy board shaped by Tuckerton Beach surfer Luke Alvarez of Generic Brand Surfboards, specifically designed to help people with disabilities ride waves.

“These events are always fun when you see people whose paths haven’t crossed in decades catching up and talking story,” reported Jack Ryan. “And the members of this class of inductees were each impressive and deserving. The gratitude and love expressed by the families of the posthumous inductees and the pride and support from the crews who came to celebrate their people were touching.

“We had naysayers from the last round back in the fold and several generations represented. So it was a good party.”

Several Island natives were nominated, including Steve Jones, Bill Willem and Justin Citta, all of whom will likely go before the selection committee again. It seems that while no one on LBI has any problem with the Hall of Fame, no one is overly concerned about it, either. Guess that’s a result of being on an island.

Now that this ephemeral time of year is here, expect the local events to start picking up, starting with the Third Thursday Makers Pop Up at Ship Bottom Brewery in Beach Haven on Thursday, May 18, from 6 to 9 p.m. In addition to the local brew, the event will spotlight artists, musicians and tastemakers with food from the new deli at Spice It Up. The Makers Fest will have ongoing pop-up events all season.

This weekend is also the first Wooden Surfboard Shaping class at Garden State Surf and Art. Email to reserve a spot. For $315 you spend the weekend learning the history and technique of building an alaia, an ancient Polynesian surfcraft. And you get to keep it!

Also this Saturday, Wave Hog Surf Shop will host the Surf Swap Meet LBI, a chance to buy, sell and trade used and vintage surf gear. It’s also an opportunity to meet some local backyard shapers.

This week starts a pretty cool time of year for Island folks – cool but busy. The get-togethers and salty soirées start popping off pretty regularly. I think we’re finally into consistent pleasant weather (after the weekend deluge and Monday morning’s wind chills down in the 40s). And we’re getting closer to go-time. Try to find time to bask in this sunshiny, pre-chaos time of year with all the work there is to be done. Unfortunately, we’re not seeing much in the forecast as far as surf, and the water temps won’t be making any massive leaps in the next few days.

I do want to end this column with a message for young people. Young people: Think out your next tattoo. I’m not telling you not to get tattooed. Ink your whole throat if you feel like it. But maybe wait a few years so you don’t wind up with some silly little dolphin.

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