Liquid Lines

Giant Ego, Giant Jetty, Tiny Waves and the Barnegat Bay Challenge

By JON COEN | Aug 22, 2018
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Several years ago, a surfboard with an engine hit the market. Most surfers didn’t see it as a gamechanger but more of a George Jetson curiosity. That year, I saw a bunch of guys out on them in Hawaii. It was a fun little afternoon session at Kammieland, and these fellas, not very proficient surfers, were able to keep motoring back to the peak and then motor into whatever wave they wanted.

When I think of the current state of affairs today, I can’t help but imagine that a guy with a motorized surfboard has taken over the ocean. It’s as if there’s a new head in the lineup every day who can’t really surf, but has a motorized surfboard at all the best breaks.

Imagine, if you will, that this guy started dropping in on everyone, just completely snaking surfers on every wave. He drives a Hummer, parks where he wants, leaves his trash on the beach and generally acts like a spoiled bully.

He makes fun of kids learning to bellyboard and spreads his tent and umbrella all over the beach. He grabs your sister crudely and pulls at her bikini because, as he says, “when you’re a star, they let you do it.”

There aren’t many rules in surfing. In fact, the one rule in the water is that the surfer closest to the peak has priority. That single guideline has kept relative civility in the ocean for five decades. But this guy has no desire to learn even the most basic of guidelines. He just motors out and pushes his way into any wave that he wants.

And when other, better, more experienced surfers call him off the wave, he just yells and turns up the motor on his surfboard, essentially drowning them out. When established surfers call him on it, he simply says they’re lying. And when he’s not surfing, he’s on social media, creating drama, bellowing that everyone else is lying.

When he falls on the wave of the day, he blames the board. When he gets sick in the water, he blames environmentalists. When he gets angry, he blames surfing.

The surf scene was far from perfect before he showed up, but he’s taken the things that most surfers agree to be true and decided they are false. The traditions of being humble and grateful toward the ocean are thrown out the window.

Now, he’s not alone. He has a crew, but they are never allowed to get more waves than him. He’s constantly challenging his own crew on the way they surf and occasionally kicks someone out of the Hummer.

But it gets worse. Other folks get out there and start causing havoc in the lineup on shortboards, bodyboards and SUPs. They’re not competent surfers, but they think that someday they, too, will be able to afford a jet-powered surfboard. (They will not.) All of a sudden, the simple rules of respect go out the window. The lineup is chaos.

What’s most baffling is that people who would scold their own children for acting that way in a schoolyard argument are rallying around this guy.

Experienced surfers, the ones who get the best waves because they have worked hard and become proficient, point to what he’s doing to surfing. This shakes his ego.

And occasionally someone from this guy’s inner circle comes to his defense.

“He didn’t drop in on so-and-so. He didn’t see him,” they say.

That shakes his ego even more.

And so, the next day, the guy with the jet-powered surfboard completely contradicts his homeboys.

“Oh, I saw him. But I just didn’t care. I didn’t do anything wrong. They're all liars, bro,” he bellows.

And thus the cycle continues.

BIG NEWS: Some big news broke last week in regard to surfing on Long Beach Island. This is the kind of news that affects all of us. And when I say “big,” I mean like 100 feet wide and over 600 feet long.

Long Beach Township is seeking a permit to remove the existing groin known as the Wooden Jetty and replace it with a terminal groin almost three time the length and five times the width. Juliet Kaszas-Hoch did a quick story on this last week.

The idea came to light a few years ago and the township had Stockton University do an evaluation to study and design this project. The DEP has co-applied for the permits with the township.

The objective of the new groin, to be built of steel sheeting and armor stone, would be to slow the flow of sand from the south end of Long Beach Island into the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge and beyond. This is the natural flow of sand here, and the geology and bathymetry of the area are known to accelerate erosion. To put it simply, the ocean can get dangerously close to homes and infrastructure. Holgate was among the hardest hit areas of LBI by Superstorm Sandy when the ocean broke through the dunes and combined with the bay flooding.

In recent years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection have done several beach replenishment projects, using millions in federal tax money to rebuild the dunes and put sand back on the beaches. After the first time Holgate was pumped in 2016, the sand quickly dissipated, thanks to offshore Hurricane Hermine (but most of the dunes remained, which is what’s important). The entire south end was pumped last winter; just as the project wrapped up, five nor’easters battered the coast. For surfing it was a “perfect storm” created by human engineering, five low pressure systems and impeccable timing. They didn’t only move all that sand southward, but also created a dream sandbar and one of the most historic runs of swell in New Jersey surfing history.

If you’re the elected officials in Long Beach Township, your number one priority is to keep the town safe. You can argue that developers have simply built homes too close to the ocean, but what’s done is done. Once the ocean starts to eat away at personal property, where do we let it end? Folks talk about protecting “rich folks’ vacation homes,” but once the dune and those homes are gone, how long before infrastructure, the economy and your house go into the drink? Then it’s not long until Tuckerton, West Creek, Cedar Run, Beach Haven West and Barnegat start requiring beach badges.

So this new groin has been proposed and the entire plans are online for anyone to see. There will be a period for public comment until Sept. 12.

For surfers, the big question is how this would affect the waves.

Let me preface all this by saying that I am not an engineer. Like most of us, I have only my experience and anecdotal evidence.

It’s no longer a secret that Holgate holds some of the best set-ups on LBI. Its southeastward tilt protects it from northerly winds, and those jetties set up good sand. Depending on the swell, the Wooden Jetty proper can be anything from a cruisy longboard wave to a giant menacing, hollow lefthander. It’s also pretty common knowledge that big groins or any sort of structure are good for sand formation and better waves.

Now, before we get ahead of ourselves, it has been made very clear to me (from Mayor Mancini himself) that the study took recreation into account. I assume that would be beach-buggying in the Forsythe Refuge, fishing, walking and surfing.

Surf wise, there is certainly a possibility that this could create a very good wave. The thing is this is already a very good wave and we run the risk of changing or possibly destroying that wave. And if a huge terminal groin is built to stop sand, well, how long before we completely cut off the sand flow and there simply is no more wildlife refuge? No more driving down to fish, no more reeling lefthander and no more snowy owl watching.

Here’s what I learned from talking to the DEP: There were several proposed plans from Stockton. Some were much larger than the current plan. One of them actually was for a “notched” jetty like ones in Monmouth County with an option to remove a portion at the start of the groin to allow sand flow. This turned out to be too expensive.

The current plan would be a medium-sized modified terminal groin, or more accurately a “modifiable” terminal groin. In theory, if it began to starve sand to its south, parts of the toe of the jetty could be removed. Again, the objective is to slow the sand in the littoral drift, not to stop it. This groin would be built extra wide to allow heavy equipment on the jetty to make those modifications.

If you’ve seen the beach right after it’s been rebuilt, you know it can be about 400 feet wide. This is extra sand to allow the beach to return to the template of 275 feet. The groin would be built to serve for only a 275-foot beach to keep the dune secure, not the whole overcompensated beach size.

From what I am told, Fish and Wildlife has to sign off on the project, and it’s not going to give it the green light if it would starve the refuge of sand.

Here’s my concern: LBI’s surf is generally worse off since we buried our jetties. Yes, beach replenishment has actually made for some fun, near-the-beach waves in Surf City this week. But overall, from October to June, our surf conditions are significantly worse than they were prior to the late 2000s. We used to have jetties that created irregular sandbars; that caused waves to peak and break down the line. As if winter surfing wasn’t hard enough on LBI, we’ve lost those sandbars, and a lot of winter sessions are mostly close-outs.

And in many cases, when the Island is shutting down, we go to the South End where we still have big, prominent groins that shape peeling waves. Now we are taking a big risk. Can we foresee a day when the entire Island is one big close-out?

This will change the Wooden Jetty. It will change Beach One and the breaks just north of there. There could be some nice protection from a south wind, but we could also see the eradication of those bowling lefts we all love.

As it has been explained to me, we could lose the wave set-up, and if the Forsythe Refuge started to get skinny, a modification could be made to try to bring back both.

This is a lot to take in. There will be many developments in the coming months. Expect a whole of conversation about the area being closed during the construction, right during prime fall surf season. There will also be a whole lot of misinformed opinions coming from all sides. Right now we just have to see what happens.

I sure hope we don’t lose those amazing waves down there.

MIXED BAG: The surf of late has not been terribly good. If you’ve lowered your expectations, you could still be having a good time out there, but compared to what we should be getting in August, this is pretty disappointing.

The surf was teeny-tiny last week, but not completely flat. That’s important to note because while most of New Jersey was flat, we had a tiny shin- to knee-high wave. That doesn’t sound like much, but it can be enough to save your sanity. A lot of people have been taking advantage of microsurf and warm water to get little kids into waves, which can be pretty rewarding in its own right.

Saturday night brought in a weather pattern shift, and we had those howling northeast winds all through the Sunday and a bit tamer version on Monday. This didn’t build anything great, but it was at least a chance to paddle around in some energy. But even as northeast slop goes, this wasn’t all that good. Hopefully there’s still some surf when the wind goes offshore midweek.

The Atlantic did see the formation of its fifth storm, which only in terms of pure statistics puts us at a normal year. But Tropical Storm Ernesto was far out to sea and went straight into colder northern waters. We didn’t see any waves, and he was  a storm for barely five minutes.

Once again, things are generally silent on the equator.

SLIPPING AWAY: I had this dream that it was cold and rainy in June. And then I woke up and it was the last week of August.

Monday night saw another successful Barnegat Bay Challenge. For the first time I can remember, the wind wasn’t south. It was actually north/northeast and created different challenges. This year brought out a host of the state’s best prone paddlers to really make things interesting. David Biggy has the full story in this issue.

Every summer flies by, but simply in terms of summer weather, this summer was the shortest anyone can remember. Throw in a few rainy Saturdays and it was essentially a blink of the eye.

This Friday, Aug. 24, the Save the Waves Film Festival returns to Farias in Ship Bottom. This has become a fantastic end-of-summer evening. It’s an international film tour and fundraiser for Save The Waves’ environmental programs and campaigns. They aim to educate and inspire to protect coastlines and oceans. This year’s offerings include “Anote’s Ark,” “The Outrider,” ‘Never Town” and “The Passage.”

Next Thursday, Aug. 30, Long Beach Township will present something slightly less scary than the loss of Wooden Jetty when it plays “Jaws” at Bayview Park at 6 p.m. You’re invited to bring chairs and blankets. Or bring something that floats and watch while floating in the bay …

And that brings us to Labor Day weekend and the glory of September.

Make note: the Jetty Clam Jam waiting period starts Sept. 22 and 23 this year, a week early. It will run on that weekend or any Saturday or Sunday with waves through the fall (excluding Chowderfest weekend.) Keep an eye out for registration. The Team Selection Night will be Sept. 14 at the Old Causeway Steak and Oyster House in Manahawkin.

joncoen@thesandpaper.net

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