Liquid Lines

Last Weekend’s Storm Surf Called the Best June Swell Ever

Giving Respect to the Kids of Summer and Looking Back on Summer ’88
By JON COEN | Jul 01, 2015
Photo by: LJ Hepp The best LBI June swell ever? Take a look at Conor Willem tucked into this beast. Maybe it was the best summer swell ever.

There can be no doubt now. Summer of 2015 is here. Actually, according to the rainbow-colored assault of the last week, Summer 2015 is here, and it’s queer, so get used to it. I think most of us were already comfortable with it. Just want to clarify for those who are so vehemently opposed to this – you are still free to marry the opposite sex, so take it easy.

Now that schools have let out and families are here for this most bustling of seasons, we’re seeing so many kids, them young whippersnappers, out there enjoying summer. I’ve seen some of them go so far as putting down their smart phones (or maybe the battery died).

LBI is something of a wonderland for kids. Those whose parents bring them over to the Island should be forever grateful. Those whose families own houses or live here for the summer should kiss their parents’ flip- flopped feet every morning when they wake up, like, around 11 a.m. There are few places in the world where kids have access to so much fun as beach towns. I remember a few years ago, listening to an adult bemoan that LBI “had nothing for the kids to do.” We stapled that person to the mast of a shipwreck at the mini-golf course and headed off to get pizza.

And when I see these kids, especially the young teens, with those multi-colored socks pulled up, toting neon skimboards, it reminds me of when my awkward crew was that age.

I grew up in Forked River, which was a 22-minute shot with no traffic down Route 9 and Hilliard Boulevard to the bridge. So even though our parents enjoyed the beach, we were late to the game in learning to surf. We had a three-month window – and that was it. We had bellyboarded and bodysurfed our whole lives, but the Island kids who were 13, many of whom I am friends with now, were already paddling circles around us.

We had no idea of this until I got a retrospective later in life, but surfing was blowing up. The once grassroots surf companies were international corporations, embracing everything that was bright, loud and obnoxious about the late ’80s. The surf lifestyle had its biggest crossover into mainstream culture since the 1960s. Surfwear couldn’t be bought online yet or in the mall (although Grogg’s Surf Palace made a pretty solid push in the Ocean County Mall back then) so the surf shops were almost places of worship. I will never forget the smell of new wetsuits in Surf Unlimited and Burger 39, right across the way. A few blocks away, Body Language was pushing the envelope of surf style. And right down the street, Freedom Surf Shop was two floors of radness. The brands were posting huge numbers, most notably Gotcha, which was doing $200 million in business a year.

Though I had zero talent, in our heads, we were part of the pack – the “Zoo Crew” at the 7-11 beach, as it was called. We were determined to rip. Freezing water? Didn’t matter. Surf sucks? Don’t care. We surfed the closeouts at the lowest tide and shorebreak at the highest – always with a southeast wind. Since our only method of transport had better things to do than pack up the car at 6 a.m., an offshore wind was a mythical thing that eluded us throughout youth.

I had a well-worn 5’6 WRV that my parents got me secondhand for Christmas 1987. Had our house ever caught fire, I would have saved it first and then gone back in for my younger brother and sister. Secondhand wetsuits were easy to come by at that age, because someone was always outgrowing something. I had wrangled an O’Neill O’No springsuit, which was more of an “O’Neill Oh No!” that summer when the water continued to dip down to the low 50s and all I had was that stupid springsuit. I think the next year I picked up wetsuit sleeves that attached to the suit with a plastic loop and Velcro patch. Brilliant.

This was shortly before we got turned on to Agent Orange and Public Enemy, so at that time we were cranking Van Halen or Rob Bass and DJ EZ Rock cassettes. To this day, I could rap all of “It Takes Two.” Ladies love me, girls adore me,… I mean even the ones who never saw me like the way that I rhyme at a show, The reason why, man, I don't know… So let's go. Don’t act like you don’t know the words. I stand behind those aged Harlem hip-hoppers. Rob and EZ have to be getting along better than Van Halen these days. Like a bunch of little girls …

The video store by our house had two surf films, which we had watched all winter. ESPN used to run the bikini-heavy “Hot Summer Nights” every Tuesday, which was a treat, featuring Surfer Mag’s TV show followed by a surf contest, waterskiing or beach volleyball. We would record them on VHS and watch them until the tape wore out.

That year, I got a subscription to Surfer Magazine. Essentially, it was our holy text. We read every issue, cover to cover, at least three or four times in school and carried an issue in our backpacks at all times, just in case we needed to re-read about an ASP event that happened four months earlier. And anything we saw in the mag, we were all over it. What else could make us think that lime green Zinka stripes below our eyes and a dozen painstakingly placed stickers on our boards was a good idea? And yes, we wore Webbs. Because when you weigh 98 pounds on a 3-inch-thick board, you need all that paddle speed.

After we surfed, it was a quick walk to 7-11, the same one I frequent today. You could pull down a Slurpy, a hot dog and a Hostess Fruit Pie (which we later learned had 24 grams of beef fat) for under $3.

But being in the water was the best feeling in the world. Keep in mind, we were 13. Our experience with females was limited to seventh grade sex ed. On the beach, we didn’t have time for the ladies – and the fact that we were clueless little jackasses with webbed gloves and one chest hair between us had nothing to do with that. So when I see these groms out there attacking 2-foot mush with fires in their bellies (or maybe that leftover Taco Bell) I can’t help but have respect.

SWELL OF THE SUMMER: I figure that if I go and call last Sunday the swell of the summer, and then we get another, bigger, better day of waves, it will be a silly claim. And I can live with that. So bring it on. Prove me wrong, Mother Ocean, but for now that was one amazing day of waves.

I’ve often said here that we do far better on windswell than hurricane groundswell, and that was a perfect example. It’s extremely rare that we see well overhead peaks and barrels in warm water. Most years we don’t see a day like that between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Following a pretty slow day last Friday, the wind picked up out of the east all day on Saturday, firing up some pretty serious gusts by evening. I was going to remark about what that must have looked like to summer folks. During the winter, we call that a sea breeze – but I saw a lot of stuff blown and busted on Sunday morning. It was a legit storm.

Sunday morning, the wind had died and we were shrouded in fog. The front was still lingering around. But by mid-morning, that snot had moved out. The wind went west/southwest and there was plenty of swell in the water, shoulder high with a few sets jumping to overhead. There was a bit of a northerly component to it, making for a lot of combo swell, and the incoming tide saw hours of a-frame peaks focusing and chucking. At times, it was a little too peaky, a steep drop with no line, but certainly nothing to complain about with conditions that good. Summertime surfers weren’t accustomed to such power and even year-round diehards took some healthy beatings, very uncharacteristic of June.

From north to south, the beaches of Barnegat Light, the heavy bars of Surf City, the wide-open playing fields of Ship Bottom and the jetties on the South End – everywhere was firing. There’s LJ Hepp’s photo of Conor Willem on a Harvey Cedars bomb that is a solid double overhead ... in June!

“That was one of those sessions you daydream about: warm water, overhead waves, with a small, friendly crowd. But you don’t expect it to happen when you’ve already put in five hours of good surf,” reported Chris Huch of West Creek. This former executive director of ALO is now a community resiliency specialist at Jacques Cousteau National Estuary Research Reserve. He was giggling gleefully when he gave me his take. “We didn’t really think it could get better last night, but it did,” he added.

And then, as the tide approached dead high in the late afternoon and the lifeguards knocked off for the day, that bit of north swell dropped out. The southeasterly swell regenerated. Right about the time the swell should have been fading out, it jumped up. The already big peaks turned into huge mountains of water marching toward the beach. There were massive drops into deep bottom turns and huge walls to carve. It was an evening to remember. Brian Farias of Farias surf shop wondered if maybe it was the best June swell ever.

Before dark, the wind went back to southwest, marring the perfection, but it was still better than 95 percent of summer sessions. It was still head high when the sun set. And for those who had surfed six hours on Sunday, the cool front made for sleeping weather as epic as the surf.

Monday morning’s high tide flooded things out for the super early crew. But it mellowed out and there were still some firing waves. Huch reported barrels again in Surf City before the crowd got on it. Even with a slight southwest angle to the wind, there were still waves near head high and grinding. By Monday evening, it was offshore with some very fun longboard waves.

And it might not be over yet. Epic surf and more on the horizon? Can’t beat that. We have some south swell in the water today (Tuesday) from another passing front. This is forecasted to clean up and be very good again for Thursday with light winds. It’s a bit too hard to pinpoint for the weekend, but the models are showing possibly yet another swell, with considerable size again. We should be so lucky to have serious surf twice in two weekends.

I do have to note that 24 Portuguese man o’ wars washed up in Surf City. With that freaky of a storm, something out of the ordinary is bound to wash in. Two dozen somethings out of the ordinary, however, is something to be aware of. As far as I have heard, no surfers or swimmers were stung.

THANKS FOR THE SUPPORT: If you missed it, last week I addressed the undercurrent of racism here in Southern Ocean County. Basically I discussed the way racists feel perfectly comfortable making jokes and comments because they feel they are surrounded by a “safe” community of mostly white people. And many don’t ever call them on it because we don’t feel it warrants confrontation.

Well, I had a huge amount of support through social media and a few great emails. It turns out there are a lot of people in our area who are sick and tired of the racial undertones and won’t be so passive about it in the future.

THE BIG FOURTH: There’s plenty to do this weekend to celebrate our nation’s independence. Inebriated revelry is part of our history. I recently watched an eye-opening documentary about the founding fathers signing the Declaration of Independence at a BBQ at Benjamin Franklin’s place in ’76. They were all hanging around a grill. John Adams was tending to the burgers and, apparently, Patrick Henry was amazing with a clam knife. John Witherspoon, the delegate from New Jersey, isn’t quite as famous as the others, possibly because he crushed a half a bottle of Fireball and passed out in the grass. There’s a rumor that the other founding fathers had to basically hold him up to the beer pong table and move his hand to sign the declaration. If you look real close, his name is almost illegible. Yeah Jersey! That’s my dawg …

Those stains you see on the document are actually from Sam Adams’ spilled beer. He used to brew his own in his barn. Called it Sam Adams. Years later, at the Constitutional Convention of 1887, they would refer to the earlier debacle (the signing, not the actual independence) as “Weekend at Benny’s.” Bunch of clowns.

Surf City Fire House just hosted the first Surf City Farmers Market of the summer and for the first one, it was a success and overalls were all the rage. It featured a few island businesses and farmers from the mainland, and a few of the farmers sold out of their crops well before closing time. Hit up the market every Monday through Sept. 14 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

One big happening will be going on all weekend at South End Surf N’ Paddle in Beach Haven. The festivities kick off on Friday and will run through Sunday. Ever seen surfboards built? Florida’s Mike Karol of Stoke Surfboards will be one of four different shapers actually shaping boards at South End. There will even be a chance for first-timers to try mowing foam. It will also be the unofficial launch of Queen City Surfboards, South End’s new shop label, shaped by Karol.  Saturday night will feature live music by the reggae band, Ellameno Beat, from Stuart, Fla., who will play from 5 to 9 p.m., as part of their Northeast tour. The shop will also offer deals on new longboards all weekend. It should be a fine time.

South End is also hosting a full paddle race series this summer. The first of the series was the Hop Sauce Tune Up back in May. The next race is July 18 at Bayview Park in Brant Beach. This year, there are divisions for all paddlers, and overall winners will be announced at the end of the summer.

The actual 4th falls on Saturday, so expect the weekend craziness to be concentrated all into the weekend and not spread out for 10 days as it does when it falls midweek. There are plenty of ways to celebrate the Fourth. Our county freeholders have made a special plea this year that you celebrate it in a way that will not land you or someone else in the emergency room. Maybe take heed and keep your fingers.

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