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Knocking Boots, Shagging and Getting Busy – So Much Sex Going on at the Beach

Cownose Rays Put on a Show
By JON COEN | Jul 25, 2018
Photo by: Joe Medica Cownose rays have infiltrated in huge numbers and it’s likely a lot of them are ‘gettin’ busy’ in our water.

I’m going to just come out and say it. There’s been a whole lot of sex going on around LBI this summer.

I don’t know that we’ve seen so much “doing it” ever before. You know - scoring, knocking boots, shaggin’, getting some, rootin’ and all those old terms that are so much cooler than “hooking up.”

It’s been wild, especially the past few weeks, in the bay, down by the marina, on the beach. There’s boinking going on in the surf with the entire beach watching, standing there just ogling.

Yes, these cownose rays are just nuts right now.

Wait. What did you think I was talking about?

For a full week straight, folks have been by the waterline admiring those dark bodies darting around in the surf, sometimes coming right up to the waterline. What a perfect way to start Shark Week!

These cartilaginous rays have been everywhere, brownish green and white underbellies. If you were on a stand-up paddleboard on certain days, it would not be exaggerating to say that you’ve seen hundreds of them. Surfers and swimmers have been getting up close and personal with Rhinoptera bonasus. And as I mentioned, they were easy to see from the beach as well.

I’m by no means any kind of scientist, but from my extensive research (which is something like standing on the sandbar surrounded by the giant wings and yelling, “Hey Dave, what the hell are those things chasing?”) I did learn a thing or two about cownose rays.

First off, they’re not sharks. They’re sizable and they have been finning, so it’s a common mistake. I’m not denying that there are various toothy animals in the water, but what you are likely seeing aren’t sharks.

They’re a species of eagle ray found all over the western Atlantic Ocean. The bigger ones can reach up to 50 pounds, and from the anglers who accidentally hooked them this week, I think that’s very fair. They are not stingrays, nor are they skates commonly caught when fishing off the beach in the spring and fall.

The other question that has come up a lot is “is this normal?”

There have certainly been summers when the surf has been loaded with them, but I don’t remember this long of a stretch or this many rays. That’s purely anecdotal. I also don’t know that the water has been as clear as it was up until last weekend’s storm. So perhaps there are more rays, but we have certainly seen more because we had that gorgeous, clear blue water in mid-July.

They feed mostly on crabs and clams, sucking up their prey with sand and grinding everything with interlocking dental plates. It’s very likely that they’ve been chomping on crabs, sand crabs and even coquina, all of which have been plentiful right on the sandbar. Local clammers have stories of not covering their clam beds and having them wiped out overnight by rays.

Now to the part about the nookie.

Reproductive activity is described as the female swimming with her wing tips out or even sideways through shallow water, while packs of randy males try to latch on and knock her up. Since this is exactly what we’ve seen this summer, I am going out on a limb to say they’re getting some in our waters.

Cue Marvin Gaye.

There’s also nothing to be afraid of. One beach patrol captain told me there have been plenty of rays, but no injuries. Cownose rays generally swim in the middle or the top of the water column, so stepping on them is not really an issue. They are venomous, but not poisonous. And because the barb is located close to their body and not out on the tail, you won’t accidentally get whacked as you might by other species while on a surf trip.

When the water was clear, everyone reported close calls, more funny than scary. The rays could avoid us, for the most part. When the storm murked up the water, however, it was a different story. I have to think that they can’t see us when the water is dark, and keep accidentally running into us. Every few minutes in the line-up, you’d hear a panicked yell followed by laughter. We all had our legs bumped. My brother accidentally grabbed something fleshy while paddling. And at one point, one of them must have got caught in my leash.

Making contact with any animal that you can’t see in brown/gray water is unnerving. Fortunately, after seeing them for so many days, we knew the bumps were harmless. With no visibility we have no way of actually knowing, but I take comfort in that. So if you got hit by something, it was just a ray.

And very likely, it was a happy ray because it just got done doing the deed.

BIG SURF, IF NOT GOOD SURF: We had a nice pattern of weather and small waves replaced by more unusual summertime conditions this week. For a good 10 days, we had fairly light winds and the surf exceeded our expectations. The wind came hard onshore on Saturday thanks to a pretty strong low pressure moving along the coast and high pressure offshore. The buoys were picking up some 10-foot swell on Saturday and the surf heights were the biggest we’ve had since late June, possibly April.

While there was plenty of size, conditions haven’t been very good and that’s a result of this rather weird pattern we’ve had. And rain every day (or at least the forecast for rain) certainly isn’t the greatest thing for an LBI summer.

From what I saw, the best conditions came on Sunday. The morning was mostly a wash and all forecasts were calling for a mostly rainy day with hard south winds, but we lucked into hazy skies and light onshore winds. The surf was shoulder high to a few feet overhead. It wasn’t great by any means. The breeze left texture on the face. The take-offs were funky, there was no pocket, and many of the biggest drops left you with zero momentum in the flats. But all that said, everyone surfed and made something out of it. Just duck diving sizable waves without a wetsuit is something of a joy. Overhead waves and 70-degree water are about as hard to come by in the summer as making a lefthand turn onto the Boulevard. It doesn’t have to be perfect. We’ll take it.

The tide got too high and the wind came up again most of Sunday. Monday was just more onshore slop, just a little smaller and size continued to drop throughout the early part of the week. But make no mistake, there have been waves. It’s been washy and junky, but if you wanted to get out and try to make something of it, there’s been no lack of energy.

Look for similar conditions for the next day or two with the possibility of offshore winds on Friday morning. The wind looks to be very light over the weekend.

While there were some periods of harder winds, we didn’t get a whole lot of straight south winds. We’re also at the point in the year where we don’t see that radical upwelling so don’t worry as much about drastic water temp drops as we get into the end of July. It’s very rare in August.

TROPICS ON ICE: It’s about this time of year that we really start to pay attention to tropical weather. Don’t get me wrong, hurricane swells often wind up being too long period, closed out, weak and frustrating. But no matter how many times we get burned, no matter how hard we curse the “hurricane hype,” each year when something starts spinning down by the equator, surfers get excited.

Hurricane swells pan out more often for New York on account of the fact that they often come with northerly winds, and long period swell coming up through the Hudson Canyon can magnify the waves. New England totally fires on hurricane swells thanks to its points, reefs and beaches pointing different directions. New Jersey, not so much. The entire coastline faces east or southeast. LBI isn’t ideal for ’cane swells. Spots with piers, surfable inlets and big jetties tend to set up better conditions. The loss of jetties has affected every aspect of surfing life here, and hurricane swells are no different. Occasionally the South End will get good, but in those cases, half the state is down there fighting for waves at one or two spots.

Now, with all that said, even LBI has the potential to go completely off when things do come together. And for every 10 times we got skunked, there’s always the one time we scored – just you and a few buddies, trading those huge peaks in tropical water. And maybe, just maybe, it was barreling. It could have been a few days in a row of solid peeling surf. Perhaps it was a drive-by tropical storm or maybe it had just the right angle, but the whole Island was working, so there was no concentrated crowd. The wind was west-northwest and you got an entire summer’s worth of waves in a day.

And with that memory, we hold out hope.

Well, I hate to break anyone’s heart, but as Red said in “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

It sure can. And right now there is about no hope for any kind of hurricane swell. While we’d normally see conditions start to line up for increased activity for the second half of summer, all the long-range models show no sign of development through the rest of July and into August. There are a few reasons for this.

Most apparent, the sea surface temps along the equator are actually cooler than normal. There’s also an area of thunderstorm activity that moves around the globe at the equator and can help to spawn storms. That unstable wave is over the Pacific now and not due back over the Atlantic basin for a few weeks. (Again, my science on this is secondhand. I recommend the Wundergound.com Cat 6 blog to anyone who wants to learn more about these phenomena.)

The third thing is this pesky dust, which is related to water temp. Tropical weather moves from west to east in the Atlantic Basin with low pressure coming off Africa being a major contributor to hurricane formation. But this month has seen a whole lot of desert dust come off Western Africa and that dust blocks the sunlight that really heats up the ocean surface. Imagine an elongated dust cloud throwing shade (in both senses) on the Atlantic.

Anyway, there’s nothing to suggest any of that is going to change in the next two weeks. We’re more likely to see something form closer to the East Coast, but even that isn’t looking too favorable. The good news is that there’s been no lack of windswell, which is our bread and butter. I’ll take it any day. In fact, I don’t see the surf dropping to less than 2-foot anytime soon.

THE SECOND ACT: If this week was something of an intermission, get ready for the summer’s second act. And that starts with Rob Machado and Hurley coming to LBI this Saturday.

Rob Machado is an icon of surfing. Part of the ’90s Momentum Generation, he certainly made his mark on the World Tour, but since then he has enjoyed a lengthy career as an ambassador for Hurley and surfing, as well as becoming something of an activist.

Machado will be at Farias’ Ship Bottom store on Saturday, meeting everyone, hanging out, talking board design and hair styles. He may even grab a little wave. Also anyone who buys Hurley gear this week will be entered to win one of Rob’s signature Fire Wire boards.

Next up is the Jetty Coquina Jam, slated for this Sunday. It’s hard to believe it’s been a full decade since we all gathered at Hudson Avenue in Harvey Cedars for the first Coquina Jam. If you remember the blustery Clam Jam of 2007, you might remember there was a women’s division. There simply wasn’t enough time in the day for everyone to surf, so the next year, Jetty came up with the Coquina Jam, a weeknight event just for females.

Two years in, the Coquina Jam became a fundraiser for David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation, and to this point, the event has raised $57,000 that foundation director David Caldarella hand-delivers to local families battling cancer.

In keeping with tradition, all the ladies have been paired off with random partners of the opposite age group. I see there are some young daughters of LBI surfers this year as well as some veterans, which is amazing. The contest will be held at 68th Street in Brant Beach, with clams donated by Parker’s Garage and Oyster Saloon. The first round starts at 9 am. There looks to be a small to moderate swell with light winds most of the morning.

On Aug. 1, Farias will also host Waves of Impact, a free surf camp for kids with special challenges. The idea behind it is that these kids face major challenges every day, many of them social. Traditional organized sports may not be the best fit for them, but surfing and the ocean have a way of reaching these little folks. This will take place on the 28th Street beach in Ship Bottom with Hammer Surf Camp. Families looking for an opportunity to get kids in the water or volunteers can call the shop at 609-494-7368 for more details.

Aug. 4 is the Alliance for A Living Ocean LBI Longboard Classic in Ship Bottom. This is also in its 10th year and also a worthy fundraiser. The spots are already filling up. Make note, if there’s no surf for the Coquina Jam, Aug. 5 is the back-up date so as to not interfere with the Longboard Classic.

Also worth checking out, on Aug. 4 is the Union Market & Gallery’s One Year party, celebrating its first anniversary with “music, makers and merriment.” The ladies down there have brought a whole lot to the southernmost reaches of our region, so check it out if you’re in Clam Town.

That will be quite a busy day as Jetty and Farias get together to present the Full Moon Fashion Show at the Sea Shell in Beach Haven, starting at 10 p.m. And yes, the mechanical shark will be back.

The next few weeks are as quintessential “summer” as it gets. The ocean is warm. The Island is hopping. The events are stacking up one after another. These are the days we dream about when the wind is blowing 50 knots in January across a frozen bay. Make the most of it.

joncoen@thesandpaper.net

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