Liquid Lines

The Kids Are All Right (or Are They?), Surf City Surf Access, a Famous Beach Chair and Warmed-Up Waves

Surfing Has Long Been a Sport of Youth, But Is That the Case Anymore?
By JON COEN | Jul 12, 2017
Photo by: Joe Medica The current generation of teens doesn’t seem to be too interested in surfing. But perhaps the groms like Ty Medica will step it up in the next few years.

I’m not sure how many people know this, but there is a church bus that brings kids to LBI beaches from Forked River. It’s been doing this for years.

This did not exist when I was a kid growing up in Forked River; if it had, I would have been on that bus no matter which congregation it was from. Growing up there was all fine and good, but once we started surfing, living in a town that is 10 miles south of Seaside and 10 miles north of LBI became the bane of our existence. From ages 12 to 16, before any of us had a license, we would devise all manner of schemes to get to the beach.

Of course, there was the obvious boat ride to Tice’s Shoal, where we could wade to shore and surf Island Beach. Those were among the most epic days growing up, the days you relived over and over through cold winter days of school lunch and pickup basketball games. But if we didn’t have a friend with a boat on any given day, we were reduced to begging our parents to drive us to LBI. I did so many random chores in the summer of 1988 that my parents’ house had a full renovation by September. My one friend dated an older girl specifically so he could get a lift to the beach. They’ve now been married for 10 years, and he still owes her (for far more than rides at this point).

As soon as we could, we moved to Surf City. We lived and worked on the Island, surfing every chance we could, forever grateful to live at the beach. Then one day, this blue church bus showed up at Harvey Cedars with all these Forked River kids.

I’m not religious, but I would have converted to Hinduism for that ride to the beach.

I hate to use the term “kids today,” but I’m not sure how else to address them. There have been several folks recently who have pointed out that there are very few young people really fired up to surf the Island right now.

When this was first brought to my attention, I immediately thought of the kids in my neighborhood whom I see out on a regular basis. And then I realize these surfers are graduating college and/or entering their mid-20s – we’re not talking about the kids old enough to grow a full mustache.

Surf Unlimited hosts three Eastern Surfing Association contests on LBI each summer, but there aren’t many locals (of any age) competing in them. Southern Regional High School has had just enough participants on the Surf Team to fill a squad. Hard to imagine it’s so difficult to find kids who want to surf in a coastal school of over 2,000 kids. And there is one local kid doing the National Scholastic Surfing Association events. One!

What’s really strange is that the local Lifeguard In Training programs are packed to the gills. You would think one would be indicative of the other. There are summertime families with kids who surf, but not as many as there once were.

Now it would be understandable if kids were out surfing but didn’t want to do contests. Competition is hardly the most fun aspect of waveriding. But it’s not like there are dozens of ripping young freesurfers out there. There are kids working in surf shops who don’t even seem to actually ride waves. And yes, you see tourists and local high schoolers who will occasionally grab a funshape and go mess around. Does anyone else remember dozens and dozens of kids scrapping for waves in Harvey Cedars a few years back?

But this generation of teens just isn’t motivated to surf day in and day out. Even this week, when the ocean warmed up considerably, I saw a grand total of two adolescents in the water at a pretty high profile break.

Girls in the lineup are even less common. The young ladies who were inspired to surf during that massive “Blue Crush movement” over a decade ago have all seemingly stopped surfing. Either that, or they are surfing somewhere else.

It would be easy to say that kids are too busy with their face in a device. But in places like Ocean City and Manasquan, there’s a good crop of hungry young rippers. The shops there are sponsoring young surfers. There are surf teams and advanced training. Clearly, we don’t have the year-round population of those towns, and one surfer/lifeguard suggested that it all has to with the fact that their high school is located a lot closer to the beach and not across a bay. This could be valid.

I also think that those coastal towns still have jetties and/or the legendary (and packed) Manasquan Inlet. The loss of groins here in the last few years has made off-season surfing far less appealing to those starting out. Comparatively, we don’t have many days in the winter where you can ride clean 2- or 3-foot waves off a sandbar like you can in other places. Our lineups are much more drifty with longer paddles and more prone to close-outs. This is a very difficult place to be a surfer in the winter, and that equals fewer kids really becoming committed year ’round.

What’s ironic is that this generation has far more opportunity to surf than any before it. Specifically on LBI, Jetty and other groups have rebuilt a very family-friendly surf community. Between nonprofit and commercial entities that offer introduction to surfing, better wetsuits (and access to used ones on Craigslist and eBay) and so many boards for every level of the learning curve, you would think kids would be all over it. The youngest participants in the Jetty Clam Jam last year weren’t even from the Island. There are a few kids who are forever amped, just fewer than in in the past.

To be honest, it’s not like anyone is saying “ahhh, what a shame. These kids today don’t want to surf ….” Unless, of course, you are a surf shop owner, although they can probably get by selling socks and sun hats to teens who don’t actually get up for dawn patrol. The rest of the surf community isn’t particularly fazed by it. Of course, we’re adamant about our own kids surfing. But overall, it’s not like we’re lamenting fewer crowded line-ups.

It was suggested to me that “surfing isn’t cool anymore.” That’s actually fine with most of us.

THAT MOST FAMOUS BEACH CHAIR EVER: Whatever company manufactured the beach chair that Chris Christie was immortalized in for countless hysterical Photoshopped memes was just given the best marketing tool ever. That is one solid beach chair.

Actually, I take that back. We shouldn’t pick on the guy for his weight. But everything else – well, it’s open season. Let the turkey shoot begin.

Assuming we all know the story of our state’s government shut-down, the closure of the state parks at the start of Fourth of July weekend and the audacity of our governor to soak in the sun and salt at Island Beach State Park on July 1, Christie was correct about one thing. He has the right to use the governor’s beach house. I mean, he’s the governor.

What any halfway savvy politician would have done, however, was go to any other beach  – even just to give the impression that he had an ounce of empathy for the working people of New Jersey. He could have taken his family to Montauk, or some private lake in Warren County or probably traded a favor for a Loveladies beachfront estate. He knew there was a good chance he’d be seen at Island Beach when it was closed thanks to his own ineffective politicking on a sultry holiday weekend. He just didn’t care. Because once you’ve climbed that far into the Cheeto-In-Chief’s billion-dollar colon, there’s no coming back. Your career is over to about 70 percent of Americans. Now, can you imagine how corrupt our government is that a guy can show such flagrant disrespect for the people who voted for him, (twice, mind you – we have ourselves to blame), knowing full well that his backroom dealings in office will afford him whatever he wants after his term despite his historically debauched reputation? Let that sink in... like Christie's chair into the sand.

But I want to bring up two points that I haven’t heard discussed yet. First off, if Christie doesn’t have the good sense to not flaunt his complete disregard for the public, how do his kids not have it? I don’t know who the fraternity-types were on that beach, but one of his kids graduated from Princeton last year. How did no one have the common sense to say, “Hey, we have our lives and careers ahead of us. Let’s not be those entitled d-bags who get caught frolicking alone on a beach that’s closed to the public.”

My second point has little to do with our specific governor. Who decided that when the state government shuts down, all state parks shut down as well? Obviously, there are many residents and state employees who are affected. But why should government discord mean the public can’t access public space? This happens in California as well. Island Beach is our damn beach. The government may charge us to use it if they’re going to provide services and maintain the park, but just because they can’t get along enough to provide services and maintain shouldn’t mean we can’t access our public places.

SURF AND STUFF: The past week didn’t have that phenomenal day of waves that my last few columns have reported on. But for summertime, it still wasn’t half bad. We had some onshore winds late last week, but nothing like those howling southerlies that had been the story of the summer so far. There was a nice little bump through the weekend. The big news this week was the water temp, which rose from the arctic mid-50s to the high 60s.

Surfing without a wetsuit is one of life’s pleasures that we never take for granted. From the time we get those first warm spring days (the actual ones, not the calendar ones) in May, it’s a long six weeks until we actually shed our wetsuits. This year it was eight weeks.

Friday’s onshore winds gave us nicely shaped 2-foot peelers on Saturday, and the west-southwest wind was offshore enough to keep it clean all day. The swell hung around for Sunday as well, although the sea breeze rendered it pretty crappy by midday. The afternoon low tides fell at inconvenient times, but there were still opportunities to get wet.

For those who follow such things, there was a tropical depression down on the Equator this week. It was the fourth of the season, and we’ve actually had three named storms already without much fanfare. The first was the freakish Arlene, which formed in April and died a quick death. Then there were Tropical Storms Brett and Cindy, both short-lived systems in June, neither of which was in our swell window.

This is supposed to be a quiet year, which it has been so far. There’s nothing of particular interest to watch right now in the tropics, but late July often sees some kind of spinner, and then we get into the Cape Verde season. Cue the dramatic music.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN SURF CITY: Much respect to the borough council in Surf City, which has added a discussion about opening surfing on all beaches outside the swimming area flags to the agenda of this Wednesday’s monthly town meeting (that’s tonight, if you’re just grabbing the paper out of the yellow box). Just giving the public a voice is a great step for the borough.

This is how progress is made. First there was a petition, followed by a phone call, and some helpful dialogue. Keep in mind, this is a town where up until recently, you needed a license to catch sand crabs.

I highly encourage folks to attend this meeting. I know there are many taxpayers going in support of surfing outside the flags. Remind Mayor Hodgson and the council that this policy has worked just fine in Ship Bottom and is proving a non-issue in Long Beach Township this summer. I make jokes, but this is a time to be respectful and engage in constructive conversation. Hopefully we’ll see a trial period and by mid-summer, Surf City is on board. Imagine how nice it would be to have the daytime surfing population even further spread out along the Island.

Also, after mentioning Surf City’s lack of web presence last week, I got an email from Councilman Peter Hartley. He directed me to the site, which is actually a very nice-looking site and vehicle for information. He explained that it is a new site and agreed that it’s buried pretty deep in the Googlesphere. The good news is the more folks go to the site, the better the search engine ranking becomes and the easier it will be for people to find it. In addition, Surf City has a beach patrol website as well as Facebook pages for the SCPD and the Surf City beaches.

WHAT TO DO, WHAT TO DO ...: There are some busy times ahead. Plan accordingly.

LBI surfer Ben McBrien, who now lives in Philly and chooses to ride much hipper waves in Monmouth County, will return to the Island this Friday, July 14, to show his fine art woodworking with the show “Black Celebration” at the Ann Coen Gallery in Surf City. Like his surfing, his work is always impressive.

This Saturday night is the Long Beach Island Paddle Classic at Bayview Park in Brant Beach, brought to you by South-End Surf N’ Paddle. Both stand-up and prone paddlers of all abilities are encouraged to come out and race in this fifth annual event. That means if you’re a seasoned race vet or just someone who likes to mess around on the bay with the family, it’s a good time. Hey, even if you don’t have a board, the shop will have loaners. The entry fee is $40 and benefits Alliance for A Living Ocean. There will be registration the day of the race, but pre-registration is highly recommended.

After the race on Saturday, you can check out “The Sanity Series,” a really interesting art show of collages by Dawn Simon at the Birdland Gallery, 100 Centre St. in Beach Haven. Should be some really thoughtful work there that will hang until July 30.

July 22 is the Best Day Foundation’s event in Asbury Park. No, this one is not local, but they get kids with special needs into waves, and it literally transforms them. I know LBI local Matt Mancini is a big proponent of this event, and they always need volunteers.

July 21 is the world premiere of “The Oyster Farmers” film at the Stafford Township Arts Center, and July 30 is the Jetty Coquina Jam in Brant Beach. That should be plenty to keep you occupied.

And I will end with a message to all those young kids who probably have the opportunity to surf right at their fingertips: Life gets busy. You may not always have all the time in the world to dedicate to surfing like you do now. But frankly, if you don’t want to put in the time, that’s fine, too.

Catch Surf comes through Surf City for its annual visit this Friday, July 14, with the Get Wet Tour 2017. This is a much-loved affair in Surf City, starting with an in-shop promo at 4 p.m. and the Beater Board contest at 6 at the Fifth Street beach.

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