Liquid Lines

Tropics Worth Watching and the Latest on the Holgate Groin

Keep an Eye on Tropical Storm Florence and Other Wave Makers
By JON COEN | Sep 05, 2018
Courtesy of: NOAA After a long, hot summer with little tropical activity, things are looking more interesting for September.

Well, that was a bit of a whirlwind. I’m sure there’s a joke or a rhyme or something about SUPs on SUVs leaving the Island, but I’m too fried to think of one.

Can’t believe how quiet it is. Hope you got your share of playing sandypants in the shorebreak and cucumber-infused cocktails. Still a bit sticky, though. Oh well, I guess when summer doesn’t start until July, it won’t end until November. Whatever.

As we’re sitting here on the other side of Labor Day, does anybody else remember 1-900-976-SURF?

That’s a blast from the past, huh?

At the risk of sounding like the old uncle (actually, I’m OK with that. I had loads of fun in the ocean with my niece and two nephews the last few weeks), there was a phone line we used to call for a detailed surf forecast back in the early ’90s. It would eventually become Surfline and today they are aware of every ripple of energy in any of the Earth’s oceans. Even when the surf is bad, their team of specialized meteorologists can give a long dissertation on why the surf is bad. I respect that kind of commitment to your vocation.

I specifically remember, as a kid, calling 976-SURF when there was a hurricane swell coming. You had to be strategic about it because a $3 phone call back then was easily traced on the phone bill and anything over two calls could get you in serious trouble.

Growing up as an East Coaster, you are automatically taught the wonders of hurricane season. You generally learn to surf in the summer and as you start to look and hope for better waves, you hear talk of hurricanes.

I was 16 in 1991 when Hurricane Bob did a drive-by up the East Coast. The damage here was minimal (unfortunately not so for the Outer Banks and New England).

But the surf was major. My friends and I paddled out at 7-11 in the middle of the day to find huge peaks with offshore winds, the biggest and best waves we’d ever seen.

That probably wasn’t the first hurricane swell we’d ever experienced. Chances are that at some point in the late ’80s, we surfed some kind of 4-foot groundswell, but Bob had the media hype, the intimidation and the pubescent glory. We may have been sitting on the curb in front of 7-11 afterward eating chocolate chip bars, but we felt like kings.

We learned that hurricanes were the rare combination of warm water and serious swells.

Bob also sort of spoiled us.

Hurricanes don’t usually get that good. A ’cane that tracks just offshore creates short-period surf and the winds go offshore shortly after it passes us. As we would learn much later, hurricanes far more often send swell from thousands of miles away that just closes out on our beaches. Last September, I don’t think the surf dropped below 3-foot, but aside from a few spots on the South End, it was barely rideable on LBI. The days we showed up ready for hurricane glory and got skunked have far outnumbered the days we actually got it since August 1991.

And yet, we still hold out hope. Of course, we’re now a bit wary of one of these spinners coming and punching us in the face a la 2012, but every time a storm forms, there’s the chance of huge peaks with offshore wind.

This summer was pretty dismal for any real surf. I mean, clean little longboard waves are an acquired taste. But as far as a legit wave you can carve your name into, it’s been bunk. Part of that was that we didn’t see much hurricane surf. We had five named storms, and one or two may have mixed in with windswell back in early July. But for the most part, “tropical depression” has taken on a new meaning this year. However …

GO WITH THE FLO: All eyes are on Tropical Storm Flo, although she could be Hurricane Flo by the time you’re reading this. Tropical Depression Six became Tropical Storm Florence on Friday night. Although she wasn’t forecasted to become a hurricane, she was a pretty formidable Tropical Storm.

It was really weird going through August without tracking any storms in the Atlantic. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a relief to not be wondering if we’re “in the cone” and discussing online if the latest run of the Euro model has a storm crashing into the Beach Haven water tower. I have yet to hear anyone ask surfer and resident weather follower Chris Huch if they should start filling sandbags this season.

Most years, we’ve had two to four decent hurricane swells by now. But several factors – the lack of tropical waves coming off Africa, the cooler than average tropical sea surface temps, the trade winds not laying down and the setting up of a global El Niño pattern – have suppressed any chance of storm formation.

But those water temps have come up, two storms formed this week and we are finally spotting some opportunities for storm formation.

When I spoke with founder Jonathan Carr for my recap on the weather and business this summer, he told me, “Once Florence gets to the Bermuda region, it will either curve and stay out to sea or continue under the ridge towards the East Coast. Either way I think the wave drought will finally be in jeopardy for the surfers. I know they’ve all been waiting for it. It’s peak tropical season for the next four to six weeks so it’s best to not let the guard down.”

The Florence swell is forecasted to arrive next weekend. It’s been difficult to tell exactly what we might see since the track of Flo is so uncertain.

Early indications are that by the time the swell arrives, we’ll be dealing with a frontal system here, hence the winds will be a major issue.

While it might seem that that is the worst-case scenario, it’s not. Waves coming from a system as far off as Flo are bound to be high interval and provide a lot of closeouts. LBI has a very uniform coast and very uniform sandbars. Unlike New England or even other areas of New Jersey, we don’t handle that long-period swell very well.

There could be a very interesting scenario setting up, especially with Hurricane Gordon hitting the Gulf Coast. Gordon won’t go away as it moves inland, but all that energy and moisture could become its own weather maker as it moves east.

We need something to help break up that wave energy and this front. Gordon might just do that. The forecast shows some 30-plus-knot winds on Sunday. We’ll be getting a swell regardless of Flo.

A lot would have to line up for this to happen, but if we had two days of serious south winds to create a local windswell at the same time we’re getting groundswell from Florence, it could look like a French beach break here.

Moreover, beyond this week and Flo, it does seem that the Atlantic Basin is settling into conditions that could have things spinning on the equator. We are officially in the Cape Verde season. One tropical wave came off the coast of Africa yesterday and another one will come off on Friday. Should either of these produce swell, they would be well into the future, but worth keeping an eye on, nonetheless.

LABOR DAY REWIND: We didn’t have the usual mix of tropical swell for Labor Day weekend, but it certainly wasn’t that bad. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday all had rideable waves thanks to a little low pressure. It was hot. Beaches were crowded. Businesses were jumping. All in all, a good end to summer.

I should also mention that the ocean is about as warm as it gets around here. Half the state of New Jersey was swimming between the flags or catching little summer waves this weekend.

Some surfers hate on summer. I get it. But being in the 78-degree ocean really makes up for a lot.

HOLD ONTO YOUR GROIN: Chatter continues about the proposed terminal groin in Holgate. The folks at both the Long Beach Township municipal complex and residents of Holgate are pretty sure that the new 600-foot-long, 100-foot-wide terminal groin is going to be built. It’s just a matter of time.

If you need catching up, here’s the Cliff Notes:

We live on a barrier island that is forever moving with the literal (and littoral, see what I did there?) sands of time. Most of us would like LBI to continue to exist on the map. At the southernmost point of where we have overdeveloped LBI is a wave called the Wooden Jetty. Actually there are about three surf spots right there that get very good, one of them being the longest wave on LBI. It is created by the constant moving of those very same sands of time.

As the sea gets closer to homes, public space and roads, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been pumping sand to keep the ocean … well, in the ocean. Now Long Beach Township wants to construct a new groin to hold that sand in place. This will likely do two things. One – help keep the Atlantic Ocean from nibbling away at Holgate, and two – destroy about the best waves on LBI. (I may not have always said Wooden Jetty was the best wave on LBI, but after 10 years of burying jetties, most of LBI’s surf spots are worse off.) Harvey Cedars is pretty much sanded under at the moment.

We are currently in the public comment period, in which no one at any level seems to want to hear any comments. A petition made the rounds last week, garnering quite a few signatures. But the “you’re going to destroy a one-of-a kind, historic surf spot” is a tough sell in the face of “save my house.”

That wave is going to change radically. Some folks say we will get a new sandbar set up and an even better wave when sand accumulates on the north side of this jetty and eventually bypasses around it. I would love that. It just seems a bit of a fantasy.

The hope is that engineers and the township will be open to these concerns and try to create something that will maintain some kind of a wave. Perhaps the state will see how much of a resource we have lost with the burying of the jetties and build us some new jetties up and down the Island.

A guy can dream, can’t he?

BEYOND SUMMER: If you’re still here, happy Local Summer. I’m throwing a special shaka to anyone who worked in a hot restaurant kitchen all summer. It was a brutal season and you get mad respect. Unfortunately, you’re only getting a slight reprieve with this weather.

Funny, but the week after Labor Day used to have a little more excitement for surfers. After being corralled into a surf beach all summer long, we were thrilled to get out and surf wherever we wanted in September. I remember even getting kicked out of the water by the beach patrol during solid swell on Monday of Labor Day. But these days, you can surf pretty much anywhere on LBI outside the flags, hence it’s not the biggest deal to go freedom surfing on Tumbleweed Tuesday. Still, it feels good to get to the beach with a little less traffic.

Taking a look at the calendar, Wave Hog Surf Shop will have its second annual Fall Board Swap. They invite everyone to bring their boards and wetsuits and swap them out. Surf City will also host Surf the Sidewalk this Saturday, a chance to score some post-season deals. Down in Tuckerton, the Union Market will have its monthly Campfire Series.

If you’re interested in seeing some pro surfing, the 2018 Monster Energy Belmar Pro is also this weekend. Competition starts on Friday, running through Sunday, and will include the Fins Pro Mens, Playa Bowls Pro Womens, a Pro Longboard, Pro Masters and the SRH Pro Legends. The whole thing goes down on the 16th Avenue beach in Belmar with a $20,000 prize purse. LBI’s Pete Machotka will be repping the Island, competing in the Mens division, so maybe go up and lend him some support.

On Sept. 14, Jetty will have its Clam Jam Team Selection Party at the Old Causeway. This is where names are picked at random to decide the teams for the Clam Jam Surf Contest. Go to to register. One older surfer and one younger are paired up for the Jam. The event may be held as early as Sept. 22 this year and it will be at 68th Street in Brant Beach.

We’ve developed quite a fall festival season here, kicking off with Maker’s Fest on Sept. 15. The 35th Annual Ocean County Decoy & Gunning Show is Sept. 23. Chowderfest is Sept. 30 and the Fly LBI Kitefest is Oct. 5-8.

This is the month we spin yarns about all year long. Yeah, summer’s OK, but it’s “better in September.” Go make it so.




Comments (1)
Posted by: Randolph Pearsall | Sep 06, 2018 15:57

Jon, regarding your comment:  "But the 'you’re going to destroy a one-of-a kind, historic surf spot' is a tough sell in the face of 'save my house'.”  I've spoken to very few people who see this as an either/or situation.  Most believe barrier island homes and surfing should go hand in hand, along with fishing, cycling, sunbathing and barbecues.  Right now, we have severe erosion that is in part the result of a flawed man-made effort to build new dunes.  And we have surf that is the result of the man-made effort that is the deteriorating old wooden jetty.  So I'm hoping the question for most people comes down to what needs to be addressed first and how can the ultimate design preserve both the homes, beaches and the surf.  With the proposed groin, we can't be sure what will happen to the surf, for better or worse.  But we have a pretty good idea what will happen to a few homes if we get a series of bad nor'easters, much less a hurricane (just look at what happened on Merivale about 10 years ago).  I don't think we should roll the dice on the weather as the consequences for LBI overall could be disastrous.  However, I think it is fair that the government entities be open to modifications of the groin over the next couple of years if the surf is negatively impacted.  For that matter, the groin may have to be modified if the design doesn't work exactly as planned to preserve the beach.  LBI is special to all of us.  We should be able to work together for a win-win solution, accepting that this may have to happen in stages.


Rand Pearsall


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