Long Period Waves: Low Expectations and Big Goofy Grins

Surfers Love Models, But Not Those Models. Hurricane Gert Swell Photos.
By JON COEN | Aug 23, 2017
Photo by: Jonathan Hoover Last week’s Hurricane Gert swell was one for the books – overhead, offshore, and not closing out!

Surfers obsess over models. Now, I’m not talking about the swimsuit models who are standard in surf marketing. Although back before the internet – before an 11-year-old could pull up any kind of smut he wanted on a smartphone – those ladies in the surf mags were the ultimate treat to pubescent curiosities. Once you had worn out the VHS tape of the Phoebe Cates pool scene in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” those girls with big hair and high-cut neon bikini bottoms in surf apparel ads were the ultimate eyeball treat (short of finding nudie mags stashed in the woods). Remember the brand Point Conception? Not so subtle.

But I’m talking about weather models. Not nearly as scintillating, I know, but to a surfer, much more interesting. Big storm models are particularly sexy. I’ve actually seen surfers get beet red looking at satellite images and unable to form a complete sentence when ogling tightly packed isobars or listening to some on-air meteorologist talk about tropical moisture. I mean some of those ladies on The Weather Channel back in the day were ... uh … er … sorry, I’m getting off track.

Point is, we do a lot of amateur meteorological work. Anytime there’s an approaching storm, listen to the debate about what the effects will be on LBI and the mainland. It always involves waveriders who are razor focused on tropical storm or winter nor’easters.

There’s actually an app called Hurricane Tracker that sends a push notification in the form of a whooshing wind sound when a storm gets named. I’m also on several surf text threads that discuss the properties of rare Southern Hemi swells that travel from the southwest coast of Africa. Very exciting stuff (to no one but us).

Last week the East Coast surfing world started getting all worked up over the Hurricane Gert models and the potential for this vixen to start delivering our first hurricane swell of 2017. We’re good at that. Obsessive, you might say.

Even before these tropical cyclones form, intensify and venture into our swell windows, we get impulsive and overexcited. But can you blame us? Even in a summer such as this, with consistent small waves to enjoy, we’re fiending for something more – something wilder … multiple sessions. We envision that storm swell arriving, showing off her bosomy fruits and leaving us exhausted and satisfied. (I assure you we are still talking about surfing.)

Early last week, Gert became a hurricane on that sexy Atlantic track curve, far enough off the East Coast not to give us any weather or drama, but still west of Bermuda enough to tickle us with those gorgeous lines of happiness. Having just had a fantastic day of surf on Aug. 13, we were all on high alert. The wind was forecast to be offshore in the morning and light all day. And Gert was batting her eyelashes at us.

Is that wax in the pocket of your trunks or are you just glad to see me?

But there’s something to be said for keeping expectations in check. We’ve been burned by these storms before, leaving us bitter and unfulfilled. The difference between these and fall or winter storms is that they have a greater distance to travel and a higher wave period, or wave interval. While that can mean stellar surf for the points and reefs of New England or New Jersey spots with serious structure, like Manasquan Inlet, it’s often a drag for our mostly featureless, southeast-facing shores. What I’m talking about is closeouts. All the swell and favorable winds in the world don’t mean a damn when it’s dumping three blocks at a time. And often, we have 17.5 miles of crappy conditions with everyone fighting for waves at the one spot that’s working. And it’s frustrating for just the regular, year-round surfer to see the streets filled with soft tops on soft racks and funshapes sticking out of convertibles.

Admittedly, many of us had doubts. Gert was continuing to intensify and would top out at a Cat 2 storm with maximum winds of 105 mph. Yet, we weren’t quite ready to jump into bed … er, barrel, after being led astray so many times before. The 4- to 6-foot swell was forecast to arrive Tuesday and run into Wednesday at 13 seconds. That’s a medium to high period for us and often winds up being walled out.

The surf certainly came up on Tuesday, from knee -to waist-high in the morning to well overhead by evening, and the kind of heavy that you rarely see in the summer, with solid wave quality. But low expectations didn’t mean we weren’t going to check it again Wednesday morning. Everyone was up early. And I do mean everyone, as summer hurricane forecasts tend to bring every weekend warrior and summertime beginner out of the woodwork.

The South End was good, albeit smaller than the rest of the Island, with peeling lefts and a few righthanders. The North End was reportedly all time (reported by all 50 surfers who were out). Most people surfed somewhere in between. And at 6 a.m., it was looking a little walled.

But much to our surprise, the waves started opening up, mostly rights, at head high to a foot or two overhead. And if you locked into the right one, it was absolutely magical. Even at dead low tide, it wasn’t completely closed out, but as the tide came in, it just got better and better. It was mostly racetracks, but you could certainly get your legs into a turn. Since there was no local wind or water, there was virtually no water moving or drift. How often does that happen? And quite possibly the best part, there were a few barrels out there. Yes, barrels and warm water, the local surfing equivalent to Sasquatch and the Jersey Devil sitting down together for clams on the half shell. It was magical.

As the morning wore on, the swell kept pumping, but it did look a bit less rideable. The southeast wind eventually came up and left it pretty junky. Gert turned out to sea below the Outer Banks, and the swell was just a memory by Thursday.

To round out the week, the surf dropped off, but Friday saw a return to a southeasterly flow. In fact, Friday night’s blow got pretty strong. The wind went offshore overnight, but sunrise unveiled weak waves and a fat high tide. As the morning wore on and the tide dropped, the swell unexpectedly picked up. I knew there had to be some fetch out there somewhere! The wind stayed light most of the day, and even the incoming tide push was decent. It was all a very pleasant surprise just a few days after such an epic swell event. Even Sunday, when the morning tide receded, there was a tiny wave on the sandbar, and the wind stayed offshore all day.

LAST WEEK’S TIKI NAZIS: I was fully prepared for a barrage of backlash after last week’s Liquid Lines intro wherein I ventured off water topic and made comments about our president’s slow (and half-hearted, clearly scripted) condemnation of the white supremacists who marched on Charlottesville, Va., with tiki torches. I wonder how the alt-Polynesians feel about cultural appropriations. Instead I received online support and some very nice emails from locals and one from a Detroit family who stayed in Ship Bottom for their annual vacation last week. They are fans not only of diversity, but also of big swells. They picked a good week.

With all that has unfolded since then, I want to make a few more points. The first is that no matter how much we abhor the message of the other side, all Americans have the right to free speech. Now, if you want to carry a Lowe’s garden center bamboo torch and a shield with markings of organized hate groups against the tenets of inclusive American society, you might have to deal with some angry folks. And you might get what’s coming to you. Although maybe we render them silent if we don’t pay attention at all. Easy to say when they’re not marching on your town, I guess.

Second point: Orange45 blundered through several more statements since then, at one point saying there were “some very fine people on both sides.” I’m not sure that this issue could be any more cut and dried. There were Nazis. If you’re bitter that not everyone says “Merry Christmas” anymore and find yourself at a rally on the same side as white supremicists and don’t immediately remove yourself from that group, you are by definition not a good person. Doesn’t matter if you’re stuck in an elevator with them. You get the hell out of there.

I know our communities harbor some closet racists – in some cases, barely in the closet with the door open, making audible slurs. An article about the history of the KKK in Ocean County came out just this week. But for the most part, the Long Beach Island area is open and inclusive, despite personal politics. Let’s keep it that way.

HOME STRETCH: For a lot of folks, this is a favorite time of year on LBI and I’m right there with them, waving that flag. The next few weeks are some of the most exciting to be on this sandbar. I personally love now right through New Year’s Day, a little taste of all four seasons without those 33 freezing days of rain and wind in March and April.

Monday evening was the Ship Bottom Beach Patrol's Barnegat Bay Challenge, which was definitely on the Barnegat Bay and a challenge in every sense. The afternoon sea breeze picked up about the time we were all staring at the sky. By evening, it was kind of howling, making it one of the most challenging events in the history of this paddle/row race. But the Island once again proved the mettle of its waterman community with almost every craft finishing. Check out David Biggy’s full recap in this issue.

Things will start to get quiet this week. As attention turns from beach to sports, campuses and tailgate parties, you’ll see fewer cars on the road, and the beach may thin out on weekdays. Local restaurants, shops and beach patrols will start to work on skeleton crews. While the forecast doesn’t point to that nor’easter or tropical storm brush-by that we often get late summer, we’ll see some more Septemberish weather by late week. This weekend will be bananas, and there’s nothing to indicate that Labor Day won’t be an all-time visitor weekend. Our sandbars are, collectively, the best they’ve been in years. There’s a good chance we will continue to have fun, rideable waves straight through. The tropics are red hot. I’m predicting a win-win. And then comes the pure joy of September and October.

This Friday night is another screening of “The Oyster Farmers,” at Mud City Crab House in Manahawkin. If you haven’t seen this film, get on it. Hopefully people will look back on this decade as an ecological turning point for Barnegat Bay and the shellfish industry, as well as saving of the bayman way of life, and this film will serve to document it. Mud City and its sister restaurants have played a big role in that, especially in their oyster co-ops and part in the oyster shell recycling program.

That same night (you can hit up both with a little effort) is the art show North to South at Sink ’R Swim. Alliance for a Living Ocean has gathered up a handful of New Jersey’s hottest young surf photogs – Fiona Mullen, Dan Przygocki, Kyle Gronostajski and Jay Rutkowski – to present slideshows of their recent work and prints available for sale. Refreshments will be served (this place does refreshments well). There’s a suggested $5 donation at the door to benefit ALO.

Next Tuesday, Aug. 29, the Volcom crew rolls through Farias Ship Bottom with the East Coast Thrash Tour. Meet Mauro Diaz, Balaram Stack, Andrew Doheny and Dusty Payne, with Volcom’s Jersey boys Pat Schmidt and Mike Gleason (who happened to have the longest barrel on the whole East Coast in the Gert swell last week). Check out the Stone Vortex photo booth and get a free, limited East Coast Thrash tour T-shirt with a purchase over $25. There’s free pizza and drinks, and the stone crew will raffle off one of their boards.

In closing, keep your expectations at a minimum with tropical swells and you can never be disappointed. Also, if I ever do a sexual metaphor joke, someone stop me before it gets to 12 paragraphs.

That’s what she said, right?


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