Liquid Lines

How Good It Feels to Be Wrong in February

Weather That Defies Nature, Patagonia’s Political Results, a Possible Return of El Niño, and Over the Hump of Cold Water.
By JON COEN | Feb 22, 2017
Photo by: Jack Reynolds ON THE FLY: Saturday’s non-wintry conditions brought out lots of folks seeking forms of recreation on a long Presidents Day weekend we won’t soon forget. The warm breeze and sunshine were a total gift package – climate change implications aside.

You know how good it feels to be right? It’s that satisfied feeling you get when there’s some kind of controversy and you make your case. Then something happens and you can demonstrably prove that you were right. Case closed. You don’t have to be that smug guy who dances around, jumps on a table and says, “In your face, sucker!” You know you were right and you can quietly sit back feeling assured.

But sometimes it feels good to be wrong. I was oh, so wrong on Sunday, and it felt as nice as any time I’ve ever been proven right in my whole life.

So here’s the deal. I went up to NYC for the day on Saturday, and it was beautiful. In the middle of February, all the restaurants in Little Italy had set up their outside tables. New Yorkers were sitting right out on Mulberry Street, eating dinner… on Presidents Day weekend. Gorgeous.

So on Sunday morning, we were on our way back to LBI. The sun shone down gloriously as I drove Route 72 East toward the bridge. This certainly hasn’t been the coldest of winters, but just a few days before we were battling a bitter arctic air mass. But lo and behold, Sunday was all blue skies and birds singing. I may have actually seen a unicorn fly over Home Depot.

But hey, I’ve been around the block. I know better. I had a feeling that a good number of these other eastbound cars were headed toward LBI, too. And they were all giddy with thoughts of a beach day in the winter.


The forecast had the mercury topping out in the mid-60s with an offshore wind. Drunk on my own hubris, I started talking about the whole scenario. The forecast wasn’t taking into account the entire story. I had no doubt the day’s temps could climb that high and winds stay west on the mainland. But once you hit that bridge, it’s a different story, yessiree …

Those temps would rise all morning and it could certainly be a decent day. But we were underestimating the x-factor of a chilly ocean. The surf temps are somewhere around 40 degrees. So eventually all that hot air would rise, as hot air is know to do. And I was so full of hot air I almost floated out of the car.

There was a slight backup at the bridge, no doubt due to the construction work. But it was also due to the heavier than usual volume of traffic heading over to LBI, all those naïve folks who had visions of bare feet in the sand and a little color on their faces. They didn’t realize that once we hit a certain temperature and the air over the land rose, it would be replaced by a cool, foggy marine layer moving in from the frigid ocean. I almost felt bad for all these poor sun-seeking saps.

As we arrived in Ship Bottom, the flags were still blowing offshore. It was already in the mid-60s. An hour later, it hit 70. But how could this be? Cold winds blow off the ocean in the springtime, making LBI about as pleasant as Billy Joel karaoke in Russian accents. Meanwhile, Manahawkin basks in the warmth. That’s basic Island knowledge.

I was dead wrong. Last Sunday defied logic and science. It was wonderful. The businesses were absolutely jumping. Folks were walking the streets. We walked up over the dunes, and there were literally hundreds of people as far as you could see, enjoying the day. There was even a little wave out there with a handful of surfers getting on it.

Some parked their beach buggies. We saw a few guys go for a swim. And dogs everywhere. Seriously? Feb. 19?

I don’t know that I’ve ever been that wrong in my life. And as we walked, bare feet in warm sand, chatting with neighbors whom I’ve only waved to while scraping ice from my windshield these past months, or summer folks who made the trip down for the day, it never felt so good to be wrong.

SURF, NOT SO MUCH: There has been some very good surf on LBI lately. Unfortunately, it’s been a total of about 90 minutes in the last two weeks. The first came on the heels of that snowstorm that was more storm than snow. What we didn’t get in precipitation wound up being very solid peeling waist to head-high lefts at several Island spots. With temps down in the 20s and biting northwest winds, this was one of the most true “winter” sessions we’ve had this season.

The next storm that rolled off the East Coast wound up being too far north for us, and while several Island surfers headed up to score in New England, New Jersey was on the wrong side of the rotation and had nothing but howling offshore winds.

Last Tuesday’s mostly benign east swell turned magical at the golden hour. By dark, the wind was whipping offshore, and it was flat in the morning. But the few surfers who were on it found insane left bowls all to themselves.

Other than that, we haven’t had much to get excited about. Mild weather, as pleasant as it is, isn’t known for creating great swell in New Jersey. It looks like we’ll have some small surf (as opposed to absolutely flat) through the end of the week before a chance for something in the fun size.

Unfortunately, at this time I am not seeing anything on the charts that would hint at our next banger swell. I like February beach days as much as the next guy, but I’d also hope that we get some serious winter swells before spring.

SEEING RESULTS: In the wake of recent … “political irregularities,” we’ll say, we’ve seen a very healthy amount of dissent, a movement reminiscent of the ’60s. And to counter that, I’m hearing a lot of voices (aka the 45 Club) mad at those going to rallies, signing petitions and boycotting the businesses that support the antithesis of their beliefs.

To summarize, I hear a lot of “why bother? Do you think your voice is actually going to make a difference?”

The answer is yes. No matter if you are wearing a pussy hat in support of women’s rights or buying entire closets full of Ivanka Trump’s clothing, you’re doing something you believe in. And the hope is that it inspires others enough to tip the scales.

I’ve also been told I should “stick to writing about surfing” and not mention politics in Liquid Lines. Now, either those folks are naïve in assuming that surfing and all other outdoor pursuits have no connection to politics, or they simply disagree with my views. Frankly, I’m not going to not write about the surf, but I damn certainly will continue writing about the matters that affect us. And here’s a great example of why:

If you visit the biggest surf shops in New Jersey, they all carry Patagonia wetsuits. Patagonia, the storied outdoor gear company, got into the wetsuit game about 10 years ago and now produces some of the best suits available. In fact, it even started its own farm to grow natural organic Yulex rubber for suits that became available this winter (as opposed to standard petroleum-based wetsuits). Today, Patagonia is a pillar of the surf industry.

But its roots are outdoors – primarily climbing and then hiking, skiing, snowboarding, trail running, fishing, etc. It is a big part of the Outdoor Retailer trade show, a very significant show held twice every year in Utah.

Before leaving office, President Obama had worked to preserve a record amount of land as national monuments, protected open spaces vital to recreation, one of them being Bears Ears National Monument, in Utah. Then, in early February, once the Orange Fog got into the oval office, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution urging the new administration to revoke the status of Bears Ears. In other words, he wanted to reverse Obama’s work at setting aside these public lands.

And so Patagonia announced it would pull out of Outdoor Retailer, an event that brings an estimated 20,000 people every six months to Herbert’s state. Following the company’s lead, several other brands made the same promise. And suddenly, the company that owns the OR trade show announced it would consider leaving Utah, and taking that $45 million a year along with it.

Now the politicians who are more interested in economics than ecology have to make a decision, because even if they don’t value preserving nature, they have to reconcile losing money. At the end of the day, whatever business Patagonia loses at the trade show, it will gain in even more loyal support from those who recreate. That’s politics in surfing.

So continue writing letters, buying from conscious brands,and marching in the streets. I’ll keep writing about it.

THE RETURN OF THE CHILD: This is not about President 45, believe it or not. Remember back a few years ago, when all we could talk about was El Niño? It was El Niño this and El Niño that, warming waters in the equatorial Pacific, massive snowfalls out west, warm winters on the East Coast and a stunted Atlantic hurricane season.

The 2015-16 El Niño was dubbed Godzilla for its sheer strength (one of the three strongest ever recorded), affecting weather around the world. It was also one of those head-scratcher phenomena because it lasted so long. Surfers watched it closely.

Well, El Niño finally phased out in the spring of 2016 when scientists started seeing signs of the counter phenomenon known as La Niña.

The whole science of predicting weather trends for months in advance is a relatively new one. There are outliers and anomalies within anomalies. But the point is we just don’t know all that much about predicting these multidecadal patterns. And El Niño doesn’t affect just a specific area, but the whole damn Earth.

Last year’s El Niño didn’t end the drought for California nor bring the west the snow it was expecting. But this year has seen a deluge, and while New Jersey has had some warm days, the rest of the country has seen some weird winter heat. We also had a fantastic winter of swell.

Since last summer, scientists were pointing to the new La Niña being something of a pendulum swing, but they were generally calling for it to be a pretty weak La Niña. And when you have such a general pattern as these, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish a particular pattern from just a bunch of warmish, rainy days, or whatever the characteristics are. This winter has proved a mixed bag, which I think most of us are OK with. Give us a few pretty snowstorms followed by above-average temperatures and no extended periods of a frozen bay and we’re happy. Well, we’re happy until that pattern lasts until the end of April on LBI. Then you can kiss our flannel-lined asses.

Anyway, it’s seemed to be a mild to neutral La Niña, and it’s already been declared over. One scientist called it “La Nada.” Clever. He’s generally the guy who gets craziest at those meteorological conventions, running around with his tie on his head waiting for someone to fart so he can predict a humid air mass heading for the elevators.

But now the science world is hinting at another El Niño trend that could develop by the summer. No one is getting fired up yet because for one, as mentioned, these things tend to be pretty fickle forecasts. And number two, spring conditions in the Pacific tend to make the signs less obvious and forecasts tougher. But coming on the heels of such a strong El Niño/La Niña combo is certainly interesting and worth keeping an eye on.

IN LIKE A LION: Damn. We are one week away from March, 18 days from Daylight Saving Time, and the first day of spring is less than a month away.

First off, let’s not get excited about that. You can’t ever count on the weather getting nicer around here. It happens when you don’t expect it, like last Sunday. You want something seasonal to get excited about? The Cadbury Eggs are out. Spring commercialization is something you can rely on far more than spring weather.

But we are getting over the hump of winter, and the ocean temps are right around 40 degrees. That’s something you can take warm solace in. Aside from the fact that 40-degree water is a little more comfortable to surf in than 33-degree water, at this point in the winter, it means it likely won’t get a lot colder. We could feel it drop a tiny bit, but I am not seeing anything in the overall weather pattern that hints at arctic air sitting over the East Coast. No, this won’t mean an early spring, or taking off the gloves in April. This will still feel like the longest part of the year. It simply means we won’t have the coldest possible water temps this winter.

ALL THE HAPS: March is known to be one of the most active weather months for the East Coast, which was actually proven by data that collected for years. And that’s why The Cold War will be happening this month in Asbury Park.

The Cold War (a moniker that sounded a lot more fun last year when they came up with the idea than the present global situation) is an on-call surf contest in Asbury Park, and the waiting period begins next Sunday, March 5.

This unique event features captains Andrew Gesler and Sam Hammer, New Jersey’s two most visible surfers. They will pick teams at an event in Asbury Park next Saturday, and the squads will go head to head in the best swell during that waiting period. This year, the field has opened, and we’ll see some of the best surfers on the East Coast from Long Island to Florida. LBI will be represented by Conor Willem and Randy Townsend, both of Surf City. If there’s any way you can get up to catch some of this event, it’s highly recommended.

In other Island news, the Eskimo Outreach is this Saturday at Mud City, in loving memory of Mallory McBrien. You can check out the event’s Facebook page for all the info on music, food and good times. The weather looks to cooperate with highs around 60 (well, except for the chance of a February thunderstorm). Toast some marshmallows and see your friends.

Beyond that, Friday, March 3, is the Meet the Makers Potluck at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences by the Makeshift Union. This turned out to be a nice little late-winter event last year and will host two showings of the DIY Network’s “Tiny House, Big Living,” featuring the Bunkerfish Houseboat in Beach Haven, live music, and a full gallery of work from the Noyes Arts Garage of Stockton University. This event is about fostering a sense of community and camaraderie among creatives. It’s BYOB. All makers past and present are encouraged to attend. Just bring a dish of food and enjoy.

Thanks for reading. Plenty of winter left, but I’d love to be proven wrong.

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