Liquid Lines

The Craziest Accidental Sandbar Ever

Beach Replenishment Project and Winter Storms Combine for Historic Sandbar and Swell
By JON COEN | Mar 14, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Johnson Winter storm plus recent beach repair project equals amazing waves.

There are times that we, myself very much included, are convinced that the world revolves around our little sandbar. Sometimes it may seem it does, especially if we share a photo of some simple aspect of Island life and our summertime friends get all doe eyed at a winter sunset or the opening of the Chegg (just about a month away, by the by). But for the most part we carry on and the world goes about its way.

Well, that was until this week, when the whole surfing world had a laser focus on LBI. The last run of swell will not soon be forgotten.

What happened last week may have been a once-in-a-lifetime thing, a “perfect storm,” so to speak, of conditions, both natural and manmade. It was pure science, a combination of weather and (failed?) engineering.

Let’s start with the meteorology. What we had was two pretty major nor’easters, one right on the heels of the other. The first was the big story. Since we’re all pretty much in acceptance of winter storm names now, it was Winter Storm Riley, and it was a mean one. It was another bomb cyclone that developed off the southeast, moved past us and saw the pressure drop and some wicked 90 mph winds howling off Massachusetts. It was no picnic here, either. Fortunately, we had mostly north winds. Northeast winds would have been a lot worse, as the bay swelled up like a spring tick.

The swell arrived from the north, and the winds were already favorable. Then for five days, we had northeast swell anywhere from 4 to 10 feet. And with the position of the low, we had offshore winds on the south end of LBI. Anywhere north of here was likely dealing with more sideshore winds. For all the times we get shafted, LBI was actually in prime position to the low pressure.

Now here’s where the other bit comes into play, the part where the federal government built us a massive, reeling left-hand point.

Just last week, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co. pulled up anchor on its most recent beachfill project of Beach Haven and Holgate, an over 700,000 cubic yard, $18.4 million federal taxpayer-funded project. It was as if the company almost tried to time it. They had told The SandPaper that the weather had caused them to push back the completion to late March, but they finished early. And a day later, that sand was in the littoral drift, headed south in all that massive winter current and swell.  And frankly, it barely looks like there was a project at all.

What it did do was create a massive tapered sandbar the likes of which we’ve never seen on this island, running lefts that threw over onto shallow spots. Some surfers clocked three barrels on a single wave. Comparisons to world-class waves have been thrown around pretty liberally and the name “New Mibia” after the amazingly perfect Skeleton Bay in Nimibia, Africa.

But the Superbank comparison is particularly interesting. The Superbank is a spot in Coolangatta, Australia. In fact, it’s where the WSL World Tour season kicks off. It has always been a very good set-up, consisting of Snapper Rocks, Greenmount and the epic righthander known as Kirra.

But about 17 years ago, the Gold Coast City Council voted to dredge sand out of the Tweed River. They deposited the sand just north of the river mouth, and the sand filtered down into one, long tapered bank. Surfers have recorded waves up to four minutes. And when it’s working, it has an unreal barrel section.

Since then, there have been plans to build a cruise ship terminal, but they’ve all been turned down. It turns out the economic gains of a perfect point keep everything humming in town. The council even permits pumping of sand prior to the Quiksilver Gold Coast Pro, ensuring that the sandbar is in good shape when the contest comes to town.

What we saw was an accidental replication of that same process. Instead of depositing sand right next to Little Egg Inlet, it was sent all the way up to Beach Haven, and then the project moved south. But it’s still the same principle.

The surf pumped right through to last Tuesday. And then the wind went north again, as the second low moved up the coast. Though not the same thump as Riley, Winter Storm Quinn still gave us a pretty decent show. The bay still hadn’t drained, and Quinn helped us flood yet again. Last Wednesday saw rain, whipping winds, flooding, thunder, snow, and a fire – all in the same day! And by the end of the day, a hardy crew paddled out in Beach Haven and scored yet another insane session. Thursday morning was still pretty good down in Holgate, with some left tubes on offer. The wind straightened out again by evening for even more waves all over the Island.

To be clear, it’s still very much winter. No matter how good it gets, it takes real commitment to go pulling into barrels in March. But those waves were about as good as we get. And we were literally the talk of the surf world with online coverage at Stab, Surfline and Surfer Mag.

Hell, the World Surf League actually did some content around a video of Ocean City’s Rob Kelly on LBI. Yep, for a brief minute there, we were the center of the universe.

MUSINGS ON THE SANDBAR: Beach replenishment is going to face a new level of ridicule following winter storms Riley and Quinn that moved all the sand immediately after it was pumped in the most recent South End project. If you look at Beach Haven, it would appear exactly as it did in early January before the project.

As someone who has campaigned for better beach profiles from these projects but yet is fully aware of the importance of beachfill, I don’t even know what to say. I’m hoping all that sand isn’t already back in Little Egg Inlet.

On one hand, surfers are thrilled that the beach profile is back to normal and the jetties are exposed. But on the other hand, we have to be aware that storms like this will eventually wipe LBI off the map.

I’ll be the first to admit that the sand set-up right now is epic. But that’s fleeting in the scope of the future of our coastal lifestyle and livelihood.

But here’s something to keep in mind. The sand from this New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection project isn’t “gone.” We know exactly where it is; out there forming the most amazing left point LBI has ever seen. But that’s not going to last. Once we see a real springtime pattern kick in, the wind will be hard south five days a week right into summer. That perfect north-to-south-tapered sand won’t stay like that. Although it was never intended to sweep off the beach so fast, that’s part of the plan. So it’s not exactly $18.4 million tossed into the sea (although there had to be a net loss there.)

That sand will make its way into less exciting but important sandbars to protect our beaches from wave energy. I also expect a lot of it to show up back on the beach in May and June. In fact, keep an eye out for some really interesting sand features at the start of summer.

A VERY DIFFERENT WORLD SURF LEAGUE SCHEDULE: Moving from the hyper-local to the international stage, when the World Surf League adds, changes or removes waves from the World Tour schedule, it’s generally big news. I guess it’s big news anytime the top tier of a sport makes edits to its calendar or venues, but a tennis court is still 78 feet long in Brisbane, Miami, Monte Carlo, Wimbledon or, for that matter, North Beach. Teahupoo is a very different wave than Lower Trestles.

Well, one of them is still on the World Tour and one of them is not. This year might mark the biggest changes to the tour in the history of modern surfing.

The season begins this week, as always, with the Australian Leg – the aforementioned Gold Coast Pro, Rip Curl Pro Bells, and the Margaret River Pro. That’s all pretty standard.

After the Oi Rio Pro in Brazil, which has become a staple the last five years, the tour goes to Keramas for the Bali Pro in Indonesia. Bali had been a tour stop a few years back, but now it’s a replacement for the Fiji Pro, which is off the circuit this year. The WSL claims it’s not getting the support from the government of Fiji that it needs to run the event. The summer includes the Corona Open J-Bay and the Tahiti Pro at the maneater wave of Teahupoo.

But in September, things get weird. The Hurley Trestles Pro has been erased from the schedule. Lowers has been an important part of the tour forever. It’s a “machine-like” wave known for its consistency that really tests a surfer’s performance. Here’s where things get really interesting: Trestles has been replaced with the Surf Ranch in Lemoore, Calif., aka Kelly Slater’s wave park, an actual machine.

Now I’m not debating the merits of this event nor the philosophy of engineered waves. But the fact that surfers will be competing in a manmade wave in our lifetime is pretty earth-shattering for the sport. New Jersey folks will appreciate the fact that the last time a WSL event was held in a manmade wave was back in 1985 when it was the ASP and the tour came through the wave pool at Dorney Park’s Wildwater Kingdom in Allentown, Pa. It was the first and last for the chlorine dream.

Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch mimics the most world-class wave … over and over again. Talk about consistency to test performance. Love it or hate it, that contest will be historic in every way.

Beyond that, the tour does its usual Euro leg with the Quik Pro France and the Meo Rip Curl Pro Portugal before finishing in Hawaii with the Pipe Masters.

Beyond that, the WSL had planned to move some Hawaiian events around but didn’t get the clearance from the government of Honolulu, so apparently there will be no Pipe Masters in 2019. Put this all together and it’s a very different world for pro surfing in the next few years.

ON THE ROAD: March is a great time to travel. Our little sandbar is epic right through the end of December. And if you can get yourself through those dead-of-winter months, it’s awesome to get out of here when late winter drags on for 11 weeks. But then, if you were traveling the last few weeks, you would have missed the “New Mibea” swell. I happened to be in Puerto Rico and got to watch a 30-foot swell hit (which was cool, but I would have rather been here for the peak of the nor’easter and the psycho lefts that happened).

Anyway, one group of South End surfers got their share of lefts down in Peru. Billy DeWitt, Jim Spanger, Ken “Brah” Gallant, Doctor John Belmont and Brian McGlynn had a fantastic week at the three famed left point breaks known as Chicama. Some of their longer waves were over 1:30.

They stayed at the Chicama Surf Camp, which they reported was fantastic with great food, saunas, massages and hot tubs. The Peruvian climate is so ideal that you don’t need AC. The crew paid for the boat service, which for $25 a day scooped you up in the channel after each wave and shuttled you back to the point.

“I’m sure it would have been just as much fun without the boat service, but it just allowed you to have a much higher wave count,” Gallant explained.

The resort had a filmer named Zoro who shot all of their waves, and there were random photographers who approached them with shots on the impossibly long waves and sold them memory sticks. Put all of those long waves together and it would make a feature-length movie. Gallant reported that DeWitt scored a ton of great waves and was one vote away from being mayor of Chicama. Glad those boys had some fun.

MARCH HAPS: March is not traditionally known as a huge month for happenings in the surf and water folk community around here, but Science Saturdays forges on at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences as we get into the middle of the month here.

This Saturday, March 17’s topic is “12 Months of Birds. ”If you can stay sober long enough, Susan Puder, a premier photographer of birds, and Greg Prelich will present an informative interactive lecture on birding in South Jersey, particularly which birds you can see throughout the year. For both new and experienced birders, I understand it’s designed to help decide when and where to go to find hundreds of bird species each month.

If you spend a little more time in the ocean than most people, you might be interested in next week’s Science Saturday lecture, which is on sharks. Specifically, it’s about the new technologies to track different species online.

Interestingly enough, our good friend Mary Lee, the internationally famous Great White with a Twitter account, hasn’t pinged since last June, a few miles offshore of Beach Haven.

Other than that, not a whole lot happening this month beyond the usual St. Pat’s festivities. Maybe this year spend more time appreciating the pipes and drums.

In closing, my mother, who is an eternal optimist, called me last week to express her disappointment in my last column, which was a reminder not to start thinking spring even if the calendar says so. I’d love to have some good news about some stellar weather or fun waves in our future, but frankly, we have neither to look forward to. The leftover swell in the water is forecast to fade today, and the end of the week is looking flatter than flat.

While we’re seeing some minor, minor signs of spring in a bit of tiny green sprouts, that’s all it is. We’re not going to see air temps hit 50 degrees, much less anything that’s going to make you want to go dancing around Manahawkin Lake like Julie Andrews. Meanwhile, the ocean temp has been consistently just below 40 and will not be making any quantum leaps for the rest of March.

My mom called me a pessimist (while admitting I was right). If you’re getting all excited for bare feet, forsythia and Italian ice, I don’t know what to tell you. I’ll still be wearing insulated Vans, cutting back winter-damaged bamboo and cooking up warm bowls of pasta. I like to think of myself as a realist.

If you’re not into that, maybe call my mom?

New Jersey Winter Storm Riley
Amazing left sandbar and winter storm combine for epic waves in our corner of the world. (Video by: Trevor Murphy)
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