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Lost in the Winds of Winter, Ecological Death Knell and Talking Beaches

What? No One Wants to Surf in Hurricane-Force Winds?
By JON COEN | Mar 08, 2017
Photo by: Paul Boardman Last week was windy, but there were waves ... for about 30 minutes.

Some folks are anxious for things to start popping again, quietly waiting for those crazy weeks where in between our busy work schedules and summer sand time, we try to pack in every surf contest, art show, paddle event, yoga class, lifeguard tournament and event when your buddy is playing his acoustic guitar at someone’s shop on the Boulevard.

Watersport-related events tend to take a hiatus in the winter, which is understandable. It’s hard to socialize when your “wips are fwozen.” But imagine a lot of locals and year-round visitors got a bit ahead of themselves back in February when we had all that Aprilish weather. (Though to be factual, there are certain Aprils that never hit 60 on LBI, never mind 70.)

There are a few events that highlight winter, however, one being this Cold War Surf contest. It’s in Asbury Park, but we have several LBI boys competing this year and a lot of interest locally. This event features the top surfers on the East Coast with a waiting period that runs to the end of March

Last year was the inaugural Cold War Surf, and despite the fact that we had so many swells, it wasn’t held until the end of March. The weather offered more of a “chilly war” with cold water, but springtime air temps, causing a few jokes.

Well, the Cold War is on again and Sam Hammer of Lavallette and Andrew Gesler, New Jersey’s most visible surfers, picked the two teams of the invited surfers last Saturday night at the Wonderbar in Asbury Park.

If there was any doubt about this being a New Jersey winter event, don’t worry about it. As LBI surfers joined friends from all over the coast walking the few short blocks from dinner at Porta to the event, it was about as cold as we have been all winter.

Surfing after the frigid January snowstorm, the Polar Paddle race in early February and some of the windiest conditions in recent memory weren’t as numbing as that harrowing walk to the Wonderbar. That Arctic air mass and offshore wind alone were enough to qualify this as a winter event.

The other notable from Saturday night was the actual team picks. If you’re an LBI surf fan, you’ve got to be happy as Conor Willem and Randy Townsend, both of Surf City, and Ben McBrien, a former local pro who now primarily surfs in Asbury Park/Ocean Grove, are all on the same team. For years of pro contests, LBI surfers seemed to get pitted against one another. For once, we can all root for the same squad. Not to mention, Andrew Gesler, Rob Kelly and Mike Gleason are all on that team. They’ll surf against Team Hammer, which is a lot of out-of-staters.

So now we’re in the actual waiting period on this event. It could run any day of the week when they pull the trigger. You’ll know a few days in advance. Organizers have worked with Surfline and determined that over years of data, this is among the most active periods of the year. The recent pattern has been southeast swells, and although none of them have turned out to be particularly memorable, this is the type of swell, with west/southwest winds, that Asbury Park favors. As of now, the two minor swell events on the radar don’t look promising. So start keeping an eye out for that somewhat annual mid-March storm to get the boys fired up.

IN THE WIND: January and the start of February felt like a virtual surf trip around here. The last few weeks, not so much.

We had two swells of note, neither one of which panned out too well. The first one was the weekend of Feb. 25-26 when a lot of surfers supported our community by drinking beer at Mud City Crab House at the annual Eskimo Outreach fundraiser, talking about the coming swell. Well, the more we talk, the less we score. The very unseasonably warm day came to an end with an unseasonable front that came through with that most bizarre of weather events – winter lightning. The wind went offshore in the evening and by morning, the amazing 5- to 7-foot conditions that had been forecasted (to be fair, the forecasts dialed it back by Saturday) were 2- to 3-foot and not even breaking with the morning high tide.

By the time the tide drained out enough for a reasonable surf, the swell was even smaller. And worst of all, it was about 18 hours since the storm had moved offshore. Those with a lot of surf forecasting experience will understand this, but by then, the storm is so far away, it’s gone from windswell to something of a groundswell, with the swell interval jumping from seven to 12 seconds. And that long period swell, not unlike those distant hurricanes in the summer, generally just mean close-out conditions for LBI. So that swell was easily the disappointment of the season.The surf stayed fairly flat until the next front, which came through behind more warm air last week.

And then the wind went offshore. Oh did it ever! There was one gust of 68 mph locally recorded. Now that’s not sustained winds, but it’s just 6 mph shy of hurricane strength. So, if you paddled out last Wednesday, it was akin to a strong tropical storm force. You would have been advised to have some good snowboard goggles, and there weren’t many takers.

But I have to say, there were some pretty damn good waves if you were willing to deal with all that wind and waited out the sets. Some of the drops were a bit trickier than expected. With all that wind blowing up in the face, you weren’t exactly sure where you were going to wind up. And if you started to do a cutback, the wind basically stopped you dead in your tracks. That said, there were some of the longest rights I’ve had all winter and virtually zero crowd. The wind blew it basically flat by afternoon.

Barnegat Light’s Paul Boardman got a bunch of waves by himself and said the hardest part was getting his board back to the van after the surf.

Something I’ve learned from 20-plus winters of surfing LBI is that it doesn’t hurt to have a heavier board in the winter for exactly these types of days. This goes for longboards and shortboards, although I am always a fan of weight in a log. There’s something to be said for inertia.

Now, when the surf is good or the wind isn’t a factor, light is great for a shortboard, whether that means 5’5 or 7’5 to you. You want to be able to move that board as quickly as possible, make speed and do turns. But we have a number of swells between November and May when the wind is whipping offshore. On these days, you might get barreled out of your mind, but you’re not really doing turns. Think of it this way. If you were playing catch on the beach with an afternoon seabreeze, would you want to throw a baseball or a Whiffle ball? A heavier board gives you momentum when you’re paddling into that offshore headwind, and it gets you down the face.

ENVIRONMENTAL TALK: The EPA now stands for the “Ecological Pissing Away” of the natural world, as there’s a new head to the government organization charged with protecting our ecosystem. Yep, if you don’t like political talk in your surfing, you may want to skip this part. You also might want to start building up your immune system now to whatever crud enters our ocean (not to mention air and drinking water) in the next four years.

In the great quest to Make American Great Again, President 45 selected a person who wants to destroy a government agency to run that government agency.

I’m particularly concerned because up until recently, I think most Americans had a somewhat shared view of the environment. No one, at least publicly, wanted to see Earth’s deterioration any more than they wanted unneeded and costly government regulation that didn’t serve any real function. But we no longer share recognize demonstrable facts, much less theories based on them.

And of course there were different degrees of the spectrum, but most of us wanted to find innovative ways to save our environment without hindering our economy. Well that’s a nice thought, but we don’t agree on nuthin’ no more. Today, there is a faction of our nation (probably about 34 percent of Americans, plus the leader of the free world) that no longer hides blatant disregard for the natural world. Scott Pruitt, like our fearless 45, says global warming isn’t caused by human activity. Because attorneys and real estate moguls know more than scientists … about science.

And I should note that the idea that we don’t need to curb our lifestyles is a very American one. While we sit in a very rich nation, mostly at middle latitudes, where fossil fuel lobbyists have considerable sway, the rest of the world is in pretty good agreement that we need to deal with climate change, as we are already seeing the effects. Thanks to unyielding profit-driven motives, the U.S. has the highest percentage of population that disagrees or is undecided that the climate change we are seeing is largely the result of human activity. We also use more energy per capita than anywhere else in the world. Cue the voices asking why I hate my country.

President Obama made great gains in not only putting us on track toward less carbon in the atmosphere, but also setting an example for the rest of the world.

Scott Pruitt hit the ground running. Long gone are the ideals that we would pick the smart folks who would find ways to harvest the sustainable fuel sources of the future – idea people – the leaders who could turn innovation into skilled careers to replace jobs from outdated industries that harm the environment. Coal leeching into waterways, stripping the gains we’ve made in lessening auto emissions and more risk of dangerous weather events are the first moves of the new EPA. I’m sure everything will turn out fine.

This affects you. The Surfrider Foundation has a new campaign to “Save the EPA” that helps you get right in touch with your elected officials.

MORE HAPS: Science Saturdays at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences continues through the winter. This Saturday, Jetty team rider/MATES biology teacher/Stockton University professor Dave Werner will give a talk on beaches, particularly the culture, historic, economic, artistic, recreational, and political perspectives in regards to human developments and endeavors where land meets sea. Werner will explore a comparative study of East Coast beaches, shore communities and resorts. As always, these talks are free for members and $5 for non.

In competitive news, the Eastern Surfing Association (of which the aforementioned surfer/professor is an alum) will turn 50 this year. The very surfing organization with roots in New Jersey that produced surfers like the Hobgoods, the Lopez brothers and Kelly Slater will celebrate its golden anniversary with the season starting in April 1 or 2 in Seaside Heights.

If you’re looking to have some contest fun or gain some competitive experience, the ESA Central New Jersey season starts in April and runs through November, with several summer contests on LBI. You can find the whole schedule at

The district will charge $25 entry this year for a single division and $10 for each additional. This year, there is also a season pass for $150 and $60 for subsequent divisions, which is a pretty good deal.

Other than that, there isn’t much happening in March, aside from the annual St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans. LBI doesn’t have anything on the scale of some of our Jersey Shore neighbors like Atlantic City, Seaside Heights, and Monmouth County’s “Irish Riviera,” but I’m sure March 18 will see a spike in Gatordade sales nonetheless.

And for those of you who were thinking sunscreen and frozen drinks back in February, well I had a feeling March was going to be more about lip balm… and pretty much anything you try to drink outside is going to be frozen. Yep, 60 degrees and sunny midweek to lows of 24 this weekend. This Sunday will see the start of Daylight Saving’s Time, a sure sign of spring in New Jersey. It’s also going to snow, another sure sign of spring in New Jersey. Have fun with that.

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