Liquid Lines

Living Out the Empty Wave Fantasy and a Question for Surf City

Cold Water Means Perfect, Empty Waves Last Saturday
By JON COEN | Jun 28, 2017
Photo by: Matt Reitinger Last Saturday was pretty mental, but with few takers on account of that cold water.

Whenever I’ve been on a tropical surf trip, my friends and I have always had this crazy fantasy that the water temp would drop.

There were the times in El Salvador when the sun scorched the coast so bad even being in the water was uncomfortable. Then we had other instances in Costa Rica when hard offshore winds caused by Lake Nicaragua would blow the warm coastal waters away and we’d find them replaced by cool water from deep in the sea.

But I’m specifically talking about when we’d work our butts off to save for a trip, travel thousands of miles, get ourselves to the coast of some developing country, come upon amazing waves … and find every spot completely packed.

There is nothing worse than crowds on a surf trip. So it would get us thinking that we certainly wouldn’t mind the water dropping a few degrees. I think a lot of New Jersey waveriders have entertained those same fantasies. After all, we have a lifetime of cold water tolerance behind us. Unlike the locals in the tropics, the traveling Floridians and all the other people from warm water climates, we could handle the water temperature dropping. I’ve watched Bajan bodyboarders shivering in the ocean when the sun was going down. Hell, Hawaiians don’t even leave the house if the forecast is calling for less than 68 degrees.

So we’d joke about the water temp dropping down to a moderate 65 in Puerto Rico or imagine a current of cold water hitting the North Shore. And then all the New Jersey surfers could hop out there and snag waves, taking the chill as second nature. Sure, there might be a few New Englanders, Nor Cal salts and Carolina crazies, but it sure would thin the herd.

Needless to say, that never happened. There was never a day that I woke up on the Gold Coast and found Snapper Rocks empty because of upwelling or no one paddling out at Backyards because you suddenly needed a fullsuit.

But then it sort of happened last Saturday, one of the best days of June surf that has ever happened on Long Beach Island.

First, the surf: The morning reports were calling it chest to “tummy” high. And from everyone I spoked with, it wasn’t really happening. One neighbor told me it was even flat at 6 a.m. We had a few thunderstorms roll through, which are typically unspectacular in spring and early summer when they reach the coast, and then the wind went dead.

But as the morning went on, the swell began to fill in. The wind varied between west/southwest and west and the surf began to get good.

Now, I’m saying the surf looked good. It wasn’t all-time. It looked to be pushing head high and mostly offshore, certainly better than we had thought. I paddled out in the late morning and while it wasn’t easy to figure out where to sit, there were some decent sets coming through. And then, out of nowhere, this overhead set popped up out the back. It was like old stories of mysto swell you used to read about as a kid. No one was in position and we got mowed down by this perfectly clean, nice-sized, peeling wave. They just kept coming. And if you picked one off, it was long and fast – like a busboy at the Chegg on a Saturday night.

And I wasn’t even anywhere special. I heard that pretty much everywhere on the Island was firing on all cylinders, so I imagine a few high-profile peaks and sandbars were really doing it.

But the strangest thing was that all through the day, there was maybe a handful of surfers. Every once in a while a small pack of guys would paddle out, drift through and leave the lineup pretty sparse again.

It was June, in Ship Bottom, a gorgeous day with a full beach, and the surf was about as good as it gets. So where was everyone?

The only thing I can think of is that the water temp was literally keeping everyone out. While we’ve flirted with some warmer water on cooler days in June when the wind was northeast, most of the month’s southerly flow has kept the water chilly. We’re going to keep seeing upwelling for a few weeks when we get those serious south winds. Last Saturday, the water had to be at least 55, if not colder.

That’s the only reason I can think of that there were a handful of guys at each street. Sometimes, you’d find yourself sitting out there alone, hunting down head-high peaks. It was that travel fantasy we always had. But instead of some far shore, it was nearly empty and reeling right in our own backyard.

Score.

THE GIST: June has far exceeded this month’s average for surf. Even if the tide, wind and fog rendered the first half of the month pretty lame, there was no lack of swell and the second half of the month made up for it.

Last Tuesday’s swell will be eclipsed by the weekend, but once again, we had decent 2- to 4-foot surf with some punch. The winds still had a touch of southwest in them, even at the best of times, but there were some fun drops and fast lines, even a few lefts.

As mentioned, last Saturday was firing. And I have to say that it was pretty damn good from mid-morning right into the evening, save for an hour at the bottom of the tide, but even that was decent at the right spots.

The wind went northwest overnight on Saturday, and Sunday morning’s sunrise service (the one in the water) was 2-foot, clean and peeling. I’m sure it would have been fun on some form of groveler shortboard, but it was absolute logging perfection. Even when the wind came up from the north and northeast on Sunday, there were a few bowls out there. Monday morning was about as clean as it gets, although the swell was history by then.

The surf has been down all week, but we’re looking at more frontal activity by the weekend and building surf. It’s too early to tell when we will see a cleanup, but hopefully there’s something in it for us. I’m not sure we’re going to see the water get real warm anytime either.

PUTTING THE SURF IN SURF CITY: With the recent news that Long Beach Township just opened all of its beaches to surfing outside the flags, it seems there’s a growing voice for Surf City to follow suit. Just to bring you up to speed, Barnegat Light has always allowed surfing outside the swimming areas and Ship Bottom has had this as successful policy since 2001.

It has certainly been suggested to Surf City that it’s time to reconsider their rules. They’ve proven somewhat flexible in the past on certain beach ordinances. You may recall a few years ago that a code enforcer would come charging across the beach to hand you a ticket if you had your leashed dog on the beach … in January.

Maybe Surf City sees itself as being the next domino to fall, but this isn’t communism in Southeast Asia. It’s not like anarchy is spreading from one town to the next. It’s quite the opposite. What the folks at borough hall need to realize is that it actually makes things easier. The way it works now is all the surfers are corralled to the one designated surf beach at Second Street. So you now have a crowd with good surfers flying down the line and beginners just learning, all within a few yards. There’s a much higher probability of incidents. And then there are stretches of waterline that add up to about a mile and a half that aren’t being used for anything. Also, the rule that you can’t launch a SUP or kayak during the day in Surf City and do a few miles north to south is archaic. There are some fitness-minded individuals running the show in that town. Why wouldn’t they want to offer this recreational option?

Surf City is known to have some good waves. I’m not sure if I need to go into the economics of this, but after a session, surfers have been known to get something to eat or drop a few bucks at a retailer. It’s hard to imagine Farias and Shore Fire Grill not wanting a reason to bring more business to that town. And might some families specifically rent in Surf City, knowing they could surf at the end of their street?

Then there’s the added safety of having guys and girls who are competent on boards being just outside the sandbar, able to scoop up a swimmer if needed. I don’t know too many surfers who haven’t made some kind of before- or after-hours save. And if you can surf 18th Street (aka Shangri-La) between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., chances are you may be there before or after should anyone get stuck in a rip when there are no guards.

There’s currently a petition going around to allow surfing outside the flags in Surf City (approaching 500 signatures after only two days). This is a great start. The next step needs to be friendly (no hotheads) dialogue with the beach patrol, then possibly Councilman Peter Hartney, and finally at the borough’s monthly meeting. Don’t plan on doing any research online, however. Surf City has a terrible web presence. Incidentally, the web domain surfcity.nj.gov is currently up for sale for $9.99 if anyone wants to buy it. Maybe hold it ransom until you can surf outside the flags?

With the “surf outside the flags” system being so successful around the rest of the Island, it will be interesting to hear any reasons that don’t support a change in policy.

PLANS FOR THE FOURTH: Wow, the Fourth of July. Does anyone still buy illegal fireworks on the way back from the Outer Banks to shoot off in July, or do we just use apps for that now?

With the holiday falling on Tuesday this year, you can be sure that we’ll have a full 10 days of madness here on LBI. For some locals, that might mean a good reason to head off to some Pocono outback. But for visitors, second home owners and those of us who make a third of our yearly income this week, it’s game on. You can be salty, but why not just embrace it and enjoy the Island nostalgia?

There are a few events if you’re so inclined, starting with the Sink ‘R Swim hosting a gallery night this Thursday, 6 to 9 p.m. The work featured will be that of Ann Coen and Ryan Johnson. Johnson, who was in a serious motorcycle accident this spring, will be there if you want to wish him a speedy recovery. There will be snacks and bevies, with music by Johnuel Hasney and special guests Matthew Kniffin and PJ Corallo.

Here’s something new: On Friday at 7:30 p.m., Farias in Ship Bottom will host a DIY Succlent Workshop on the back patio. If you’re slow to the game on this (like me) succulents are stylish plants that retain water. Think aloe, cactus and jade plants. They look good when arranged in planters and take little water. Sounds like this is the heavy influence of Five O Six Surf Boutique in Surf City and I just learned something new. Tickets can be bought online. Find the link at the shop’s Facebook event page.

On Saturday morning you can get some yoga and surf on 19th Street in Ship Bottom with Surf Unlimited. I am told the shop is now carrying Rosbern surfboards, a growing brand out of Asbury Park.

All you skimboarders, and I am seeing a lot this year, can take part in the Saturday Skim Session at noon on Fourth Street in Ship Bottom to learn a few new moves.

On Tuesday, the 4th itself, Parker’s Garage, which is all the talk in Beach Haven, will host a Fourth of July Clambake at its location at Northwest Avenue and the bay. There are seatings at 5 and 8:30 p.m. Funds from the cash bar will support the Jetty Rock Foundation and the new Island-wide Oyster Recycling Program. I smell a great tradition here (and clams on the grill).

And if you’re making plans, the 5th Annual LBI Paddle Classic is July 15 at Bayview Park and Jetty’s 9th Annual Coquina Jam is Sunday, July 30, at 70th Street in Brant Beach.

As the big holiday weekend comes crushing down on us, I think the most patriotic American thing to do is flex those muscles of democracy and work on getting surfing freedom outside the flags in Surf City. And let’s try to be good to our fellow Americans. Our forefathers didn’t cross the frozen Delaware River on Christmas Eve to surprise the Hessians so that we could fight over a parking spot this weekend in Beach Haven.

joncoen@thesandpaper.net

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