Liquid Lines

Sandbars Looking Better This Year, Fall Finally Shows Up

Things Always Seemed Better Back in the Day, But Our Waves Actually Were
By JON COEN | Oct 18, 2017
Photo by: Greg Melega We enjoyed an extra six weeks of summer, which just came to an end. But early fall is pretty perfect around here. Matt Aniski is showing off for his friends.

The older they get, the better they were. You likely know a few guys who fit that bill on this Island. I find this especially true of surfers from the ’70s who rode that long, hazy wave into the ’80s. Somehow, in transitioning from those soul-soaked weed days of singlefins and free thinking to the neon mess of the early thruster era, those guys were the best surfers there ever were … according to them. Or maybe it was all that cocaine with bikini models that we always read about?

I kid. A lot of those guys are some of my favorite folks to share waves with around here and have the greatest ability to poke fun at themselves and those times. But we’re all aware that the past is always better in our memories. We conveniently forget how flat it was in the spring 2004 … or 1974 if that’s the case. We don’t recall the times the wind went offshore right before dark, killing a fresh south swell by morning. And we certainly have very little recollection of a hurricane name that didn’t sent us waves. So yeah, the waves “back when” always seem better.

But I don’t know that anyone will disagree when I say that LBI’s general set-ups were better prior to 10 years ago. Swells come and go. Flat spells will always be a part of life. And the wind doesn’t cooperate any more or less than it ever has. But the sand has certainly changed.

Now, the sand change isn’t all bad. There are spots on the South End that were arguably as good as they ever have been in September. A few good, long lefts will make a believer out of anybody, and as was the case for most of those hurricane swells, everybody in New Jersey was looking for one at the same time. But remember when we used to surf Leeward Ave.? That’s a blast from the past.

What I am mostly referring to is our day-to-day waves. While bad sandbars can ruin an epic swell, I am generally referring to the condition of the break for your average knee- to chest-high days. They’re the moderate swell dawn patrols, unexpected windless days or after-work longboard sessions in between big swell events.

You can pretty easily point to the start of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Island-wide Coastal Storm Damage Reduction Project (you know it as “beachfill”) as the point when the surf started to get worse around here. And there is no doubt that I and many others had plenty to say about that. In the early 2000s, we had members of the Surfrider Foundation coming down from Monmouth County to tell us how these projects were going to adversely affect the quality of our surf, not to mention swimming conditions and fishing. And for the most part, that was exactly what happened.

Now, don’t get me wrong, without those projects, we may not still be inhabiting Long Beach Island as we know it today. Say what you want about replenishment, you might be taking a ferry to Barnegat Light from Surf City without it. But there’s no doubt that aside from a few days surfing off the dredge, the sandbars have not been as good as they were previously.

In addition to a few other factors, I think the loss of jetties has a lot to do with that. Our surfing life here kind of revolved around them. In short, you never met fellas outside the porn industry who were so proud of their groins.

The jetties tended to set up a taper to the sandbars. This creates a peak, and a wave that peels down the line. They also served as protection from wind and current, generally making our surf more manageable. Like everything else, we always had closeouts here, but I don’t think anyone will argue that we had fewer days shutting down when we had jetties.

Think about surfing in Long Branch, Atlantic City, Manasquan or Ocean City where there are big, prominent structures, particularly jetties. Those spots don’t necessarily have more epic or dramatic waves than us. In a word, the surf is just more manageable. Not very sexy, but neither is the smell of your winter suit, paying to surf, or a lot of other things that come with riding waves in the Garden State.

Some groins have certainly come back. Think of the ones that were buried just two years ago in Beach Haven and Holgate. But remember that only 10 years ago, we were shooting tautog off the jetties in Ship Bottom. Thanks to the pumping in Surf City and Brant Beach, Ship Bottom hadn’t seen a single rock for years even before it had its own beach replenishment in 2015. And those exposed groins from Loveladies down to North Beach Haven are stubs of their former selves.

Don’t expect the Army Corps to come back and replace any of those groins anytime soon. With the exception of the possibility that Long Beach Township is looking into lengthening and strengthening the Wooden Jetty, coastal engineers don’t use jetties anymore. While groins do collect sand on the “updrift” side, they starve the beach to the “downdrift” side of sand. And that’s a bummer because our surf and fishing could really benefit from some nice new rock structures.

That was an awfully long build-up to what I had promised way up at the top there about good news. Well, I’m getting to that.

As I’ve been saying all summer, our sandbars are in excellent shape. But normally the beach profiles change dramatically between the end of August and October. Part of that is the “winter beach” set-up that occurs mainly from the middle of Surf City down to Beach Haven. This is where the beach drops off to a big, deep hole or trough. The sandbar migrates east, so way on the outside, you have one thin strip of sand that is usually not rideable at the highest of tides and at lower tides just jacks up, breaks quick and then fizzles as it hits the deep sections. This may not be as bad in Cedars or parts of Beach Haven, but it means miles and miles of the Island are unridable at times, and everyone winds up concentrated at a few beaches. In short, that sucks.

While it’s obvious that the burying of the jetties is responsible for the misshapen sandbars, we’ve always had the winter beach thing to contend with. I tend to think it’s more exaggerated now, however.

Oh, wait, I was supposed to be getting to the good news … . Yes, the good news is that the sandbars are actually very favorable as we move into the colder season. The spots that get the worst of the winter beach scenario are breaking relatively close to the beach, and our “bread and butter” spots do have tapered sandbars. This is even after six weeks of groundswell, a few windswells, and a pretty significant north blow and well-overhead surf last week.

This is particularly important as the water gets colder. Trying to get waves in a 5-mil with numb feet is tough enough without heaving closeouts and waves that are too fast down the line.

I’m hoping this gets us more decent surf as we get closer to winter. I’m not talking about those nor’easters with howling northwest wind or the big lows that move out of the Ohio Valley and kick up peeling rights. Those days will still be great in Holgate and Surf City and all those high-profile spots. I’m talking about the next day of leftovers. I’m thinking all those 2- to 3-foot days that used to be fun to surf before they were abysmal closeouts. We’re going to deal with southwest winds, bad swell angles and tiny days of no surf just like always. But if the sand sets up for a few more of those fun waist-high days that actually peel, well, late fall, winter and that five-month period of late winter could be a lot more fun.

HARVEY CEDARS SURF ACCESS NEWS: Harvey Cedars addressed a movement suggested by several of its residents to allow surfing outside the flags at the commissioners meeting two weeks ago. The issue came up this summer when Surf City voted to try the policy of allowing surfing outside the swim areas during guarded hours.

Keeping in mind that none of this will have any bearing until next summer, things are moving along. The town has notified those who presented their case that it will implement the policy on a trial basis around 80th Street next summer.

Most everyone sees this as a positive step, but a few folks are wondering exactly what the town and beach patrol are looking to observe. At any rate, this is a good sign, and it shows that Harvey Cedars is listening to what surfers and beach-going families (and taxpayers) want.

WAVES AND WEATHER AMID THE CHANGE: So you finally got to use that fire pit!

We’ve seen somewhat of a change of the seasons this week. Fall took a few extra weeks in getting here, not that anyone is complaining. Monday didn’t hit 60 degrees, which isn’t all that bad. But it’s a far stretch from the 82-degree afternoons we’ve been enjoying.

I mean, all locals talk about all summer is how much we work and how bad the traffic is. Well, the last six weeks have been an off-season blessing. Things have slowed a bit, and the lights have been off in some towns for weeks now. We’re finally entering early autumn, which is basically Christmas morning, Fourth of July and the swell of the year all wrapped into one.

Seriously, the leaves are still on the trees, the ocean is still relatively warm, you can still eat dinner in the yard, and there’s been a wave, in one form or another, in the water non-stop. Somebody pinch us. It’s the antithesis of April.

I also have to recommend going to Surfline.com and watching “September, the Movie,” by Dark Fall Productions. Our neighbor to the south, Alex DePhillipo, created this short film for Surfline about the ups and downs of this historic hurricane season. The level of surfing – and videography – on the East Coast right now are through the roof.

We just enjoyed yet another couple of swells that ran into each other, making our unbroken stretch somewhere around eight weeks. When I checked the surf Monday afternoon and saw it was only a foot, it took some getting used to. The tropical swells ran right into a succession of windswells.

The water temp did drop off a bit to the mid-60s. It’s still pretty much gorgeous out there, but with the cooler mornings now, even the holdouts will need some kind of a suit.

The surf came up big time at the end of last week although the low moved to our east, rather than our north. Last Thursday was way overhead in hard north winds. Friday was similarly junk. The wind unexpectedly went north/northwest on Saturday, making for a few favorable waves down on the South End with some unexpected power. Sunday was a smaller version in the morning, but pretty much the whole Island got blown when the wind went south. Not bad for kiteboards.

With the east swell fading, Sunday’s south winds produced a new southerly swell. The wind went offshore on Sunday night. We haven’t really had a true offshore wind in some time, so it felt nice to see clean lines. The better spots were taking in some tummy-high waves, and it was peeling. These are the days I’m referring to above – nothing that goes down in the history books, but just good-time, average days. Unfortunately, being windswell, it was flat at high tide on Monday evening.

In an interesting weather tidbit, Post Tropical Cyclone Ophelia (we made it to the O storm) went east last weekend and actually hit Ireland as a pretty strong storm. For an isle that takes on so much weather, hurricanes are pretty rare. But such is the season we are witnessing. The storm actually caused widespread power outages, and a few deaths where trees fell on cars.

By Monday afternoon, there was nothing on the Atlantic Tropical Weather map for the first time since late August.

OBLIGATORY “FALL” PLAY ON WORDS: “Falling” into seasonal events ...  you know, something like that. I am very excited to announce that a pair of Island surfers will be opening their own yoga studio. Yogi-couple Jenn McConnell and Kevin Corey will open the Yoga Hive in the Manahawkin Shoppes in November. Read Juliet Kaszas-Hoch’s full story in this issue for the details.

But this is an amazing location. Every urban area that has redeveloped in the last 10 years has started with folks who are somewhat on the fringe – creatives and health-minded people. Think Asbury Park. The Shoppes at Manahawkin are like a little Asbury in downtown Manahawkin (aka #DOMA, credit to Robyn Pallota, co-owner of Schwee Tea Co. for the hashtag). You’ve got a skate shop, health food store, vegetarian restaurant, specialty bake shop and until recently, an ethnic restaurant. Shore Fire Grill recently replaced La Bamba, which is still open full time in Ship Bottom. And SFG certainly fits in perfectly. These are all the kind of businesses that brings back downtown areas. A yoga studio is literally the next logical step. Opening day is Nov. 4; stop in for free yoga, henna and giveaways. Very exciting.

In other locals-doing-big things news, our boy Ryan Zimmerman just recorded his new EP, Ephemeral as A Kiss, at Little Eden Studios and released it at RyanZimmermanmusic.com. Download it and give it a listen. Ry Guy leaves for a tour of the Pacific Northwest this week, and we wish him luck on the road.

There are still spots open for the Alaia Shaping Class at Tuckerton Seaport this weekend. It runs both days from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Greg Melega, owner of Papa Planes, will not only teach you how to make your own solid wooden replica of the ancient Polynesian surfcraft, but also teach the history of it. And you leave with your own alaia to either slide on a clean day or hang on the wall. The price is $325 for members and $350 for non. Email julieh@tuckertonseaport.org for registration and more info.

The boys over at Jetty will once again look at this weekend for a possible running of the Clam Jam. Last weekend had no lack of swell, but the wind was an issue both days. At one point on Saturday afternoon, the surf was decent as the wind died, but the first half of the day would have been miserable in junk surf and rain. So that was a good call. And Sunday was a day of devil winds. There’s no obvious swell on the radar for this weekend, which might push us farther to a late-October jam. Stay tuned to the event Facebook page late week for the official call.

joncoen@thesandpaper.net

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