Liquid Lines

If Long Beach Island Waves Were Always as Good as They Were This Year, No One Would Ever Move Away

Even More Waves, Still Waiting on the Clam Jam and the Crisp Autumn Upon Us
By JON COEN | Nov 01, 2017
Photo by: Greg Malega Joel Dramis may have thought about moving away at one time, but he's was likely glad to be at home this past week.

We all have friends from the Island who live in California, Hawaii, the Outer Banks, and a bunch of other places where the surf is better than here. Or maybe Colorado? It’s a familiar story. They learn to surf in New Jersey, fall in love with it, and then travel to find better waves.

During one of those trips they find that the waves are more consistent, warmer, bigger, etc. You really can’t blame them. They come back to less-consistent, cold, small waves, and they decide to move away.

It’s not like living here is easy. The median home on LBI is worth $1 million again. And yet, there aren’t any big companies in the area offering jobs, no universities, nor production plants. You have to be a hustler. And we know a lot of folks who simply pull up anchor and move somewhere else to be a hustler.

I could never see myself doing that. I love to travel. I like more-consistent, warmer and bigger waves, too. But truth be told, when I’m traveling and I find out that LBI was 5 foot and clean, I would always have rather been home for the day. Plus, pizza is a big factor. And there’s too much here that I would miss – friends, family and pretty much the whole reality-based culture of New Jersey.

But if the surf was always as good as it’s been for the past three months – heck, past six months, really – I have to imagine a few of those people never would have left. Funnily enough, while we had that six-week string of hurricane surf from August to October, much of Southern California was flat and junky.

Sure some of them left because they aren’t much for wrestling into the thick rubber and surfing bombing waves on freezing days. And they’d rather just pull on a 3-mil on a January day and surf point break in the Pacific. But I would miss those snowy days with just a handful of guys (the less-romantic April days where your feet turn to ice, not so much).

But really, if the Island had as much good swell as we’ve had recently, why would you move? It has been one hell of a year.

I feel like it’s been a while since we had a really good fall. Our recent winters have offered up plenty of meat, but the last several years have been a little shy on big days in September and October. But once again, 2017 is producing.

EVEN MORE WAVES TO THE STRETCH: And just like that, we went from summer to winter. Well, not winter, but colder autumn. The season has definitely changed. The air and water temps, which have been hanging above normal for the last few weeks, finally got to where they should be. And that basically only took a storm. On Sunday, I was playing in the flooded street with my kid. On Monday, we were all bundled up for winter. If any of this surprises you, then you haven’t been living in New Jersey long enough.

Since Liquid Lines runs every other week now, I’ll try to sum up the last 14 days or so, and they included a little bit of everything. Two weeks back we had a host of small, warm, fun days, the likes of which we haven’t had much of in a few autumns.

Last week we had the first big storm of the fall, which resulted in a really fun 4- to 5-foot swell, lasting Wednesday to Friday. This is a rare scenario as we get into this time of year, but we will certainly take it. I was traveling last week (to a spot known as a world-class surf destination, which was flat, of course) and got some very good reports on this swell. Wednesday afternoon fired. Thursday had moments that were actually better. And there was still a decent wave on Friday.

One thing I did hear repeatedly, though, was there were only a few spots working. There were waves everywhere, but not every street had a wave. At one point, the South End was absolutely mental with stand-up barrels and gorgeous peaks. However, it was the only spot on the Island breaking. I think this took everyone a bit by surprise, as we are used to Surf City and Cedars getting good on these swells.

There was a tiny residual wave on Saturday, although mostly junk, before the next big storm swung through.

This was no average swinging-through front; this was a pretty vicious system. The Island flooded pretty good. I noticed a few cars that were stranded and may be totaled from the rising water. And the wind ... If anything was ever a reminder of what winter is like here, that wind was clocked at over 60 mph Sunday night.

Oh, and there was a tropical storm in all of that. Yes, Tropical Storm Phillipe, off the southeast coast, may have added to the building swell.

The wind switched late on Sunday, but there was no lack of size. Can’t imagine how big it must have been in the dark on Sunday night. To give an idea, the Nantucket buoy was reading 20-foot still on Monday afternoon. Can we officially call it the great Mischief Day swell of 2017?

Monday morning was looking pretty toothy out there with the 10 a.m. low tide. There was certainly no lack of swell, but the forecast was one that simply screams, “Go north.” Yes, you may have seen a wind forecast for west winds, but there were a few west/southwest barbs in there. And it’s a good bit of knowledge that when you see any hint of southwest, aka, the Devil wind, you go north.

Not to say that LBI wasn’t rideable. The wind shifted much of the day between west and west-southwest, so LBI had its moments. Cedars never really did it, but when the wind was west, one spot on the South End was very clean and very serious. I’m told there were no takers. There was also a very good report of split peaks from Ship Bottom at the higher tide, although smaller.

I talk about going north because once you get around the bend from Barnegat Inlet, the New Jersey coast makes a decisive curve and the shoreline goes from a southeast face to an east face. That means any kind of southwest wind will have a hint of sideshore. And once in a while, that’s not a big deal, but when the wind is 40 mph like it was on Monday, it hammers the hell out of the face. Not to mention that on these southeast swells with a lot of east in them, northern Ocean and Monmouth County can be a bit bigger.

So, hopefully you made the trek up to Seaside, Manasquan, Spring Lake or Long Branch. We scored a favorite spot up there. The late morning was huge, and there were plenty of 6- to 8-footers with fantastic west winds and light crowds. The biggest challenge was the strength of the wind. Yes, it was straight offshore, but howling like that made it really tough to get into waves. A few hours of that and a good amount of paddling was exhausting anywhere you surfed. But it was damn good.

Surprisingly there were no photographers around. That’s rare in 2017, although it may have to do with the fact that one Robert Kelly Slater was in Spring Lake. Dude steals all the thunder. Yep. It was that good. Kelly Slater was surfing Monmouth County on Monday.

Halloween waves are always fun, although Tuesday’s winds were spooky in that annoying kind of way. I watched a handful of guys paddle out in Surf City Tuesday morning. The swell was certainly still there, about shoulder high on set. But the wind was still southwest and junking it up.

THE CHANGE: The leaves are just about at full color, so all the autumn lovers should be pretty excited that fall is here. Hopefully it’s not just one week of autumnal bliss and then winter. The ocean is now in the 50s, thanks to that offshore wind and the cooler nights that came with Sunday’s frontal passage. You can still surf in a 3-mil without boots or gloves. I noticed a few surfers wearing hoods on Monday, but that was mostly because of the wind gusts.

This is a pretty stellar time of year, with fire pits, crisp nights and striped bass filets showing up magically at your doorstep.

The one down side to this time of year is the lack of daylight. But this Sunday we end Daylight Saving Time, which means early risers can get in the water a bit after 6 a.m. But the sun will sink before 5 p.m., which seriously cuts down water time for the 9-to-5 crowd. As we get closer to Dec. 20, we lose light on both ends.

ONE LONG CLAM JAM SEASON: Well, there’s been no lack of waves. We’ve even had some great winds. But they haven’t all lined up on a Saturday or Sunday since the Jetty Clam Jam window period opened at the beginning of October.

Once again, Jetty had to postpone the Jam last weekend. Saturday had only a hint of a weak wave with side shore winds, and Sunday was a full maelstrom. The Jetty crew will look at this weekend for a possible run. Keep it tuned to the Clam Jam event page on Facebook. There is a little bump in the forecast for both this Saturday and Sunday with highs around 60. As we get into November, the boys will start looking at weekdays to pull the trigger as well. Otherwise, it might conflict with the Ship Bottom Christmas Parade …

AND OTHER STUFF: Well, for the first time in a while, we have no big events on the immediate horizon. Other than waiting to hear about the Clam Jam, things are pretty quiet in the event category.

The next few weeks are likely to fly by, but I might mention that The Arlington, in Ship Bottom will host this year’s Shave the Date a fundraiser for David’s Dream and Believe Cancer Foundation on Nov. 24. Carmello’s Barbershop and Ryan’s Barbershop will both participate this year, doing haircuts where all the money goes to local men facing cancer and the mounting costs that come with it. David’s Dream & Believe is rapidly closing in on its 1,000th family assisted in the area.

Small Business Saturday is Nov. 25, when you might want to think about buying locally made or sold holiday gifts instead of MMA wrestling for the last Chinese-made Fingerling Interactive Baby Monkey at Walmart. Since the Island is normally bustling that holiday weekend, South-End Surf ’N Paddle and the Lighthouse International Film Festival will host a screening of Chris Burkhart’s Icelandic adventure under the Northern Lights, “Under an Arctic Sky.” This is likely the most exciting surf film to come out this year. It’s $5, and free for LIFF members.

So go ahead and pull out that cool puffy vest you’ve been waiting to wear. Cut some firewood for winter. Perhaps even start planning your first snow strike to Vermont.

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