Liquid Lines

Usually a Busy Time for Locals, This Year We’re Slammed

Hiring, Building, Cleaning, Painting, Booking, Marketing, Repairing, Landscaping
By JON COEN | May 09, 2018
Photo by: Matt Reitinger@StayAbovetheWeather With the season not far off, we’re all on a deadline. And the long winter didn’t help. Among runs to The Home Depot, we have average surf.

I fully realize that I am not just talking to my neighbors this week. With every extra degree of warmth, more folks are coming to visit our area. And I have to imagine that if I were coming onto LBI for the first time this year, I’d be thinking that it looks as if we’re not really ready for summer.

Well, I can assure you, we will be ready. But yes, I get it. There is a lot of that yellow “Caution” tape around.

I imagine what you folks must see as you pull off the Parkway or emerge from the pitch pines onto 72 in Manahawkin. It’s all fairly normal until you get to the Causeway, which has now been undergoing work for a full five years. My kid turns 6 this week. Perhaps when he comes home for Thanksgiving his freshman year of college, it will be done.

We’re currently all running the narrow gauntlet on the new bridge as the old one is rehabbed. Incidentally, when it’s done, it will have a nice wide shoulder on the north span and even a pedestrian lane on the thoroughfare bridges. If you ever rode your bike across prior to 2013, you know that will feel like the Cadillac of bike lanes.

And then as you arrive on the Island, you’re probably noticing the construction of the new Hotel LBI, formerly the State Room, and then the new Arlington Beach Club, formerly a dirt lot/dandelion farm. You won’t be inside either one any time soon.

As you drive north or south on LBI, it won’t be far before you see squad cars’ lights as roads are dug up or new medians laid down. Ship Bottom seems to be finishing up work, but I might warn you that Central Avenue feels a bit like the old gravel road to Tamarindo, Costa Rica back in the ’90s. Beach Haven is a virtual hive of activity around the new municipal building, which somehow reaches across the whole shoulder of the Bay Avenue. And Hop Sauce Fest will be at Veterans Memorial Park this year, as the field at Taylor Avenue is a pile of dirt.

And that’s just the big stuff. We’re all under the gun. There’s a busy season on LBI leading up to summer as everyone prepares to make the most of our three-month economy. It’s a blur of hiring, building, cleaning, painting, booking, marketing, repairing, landscaping, inventorying and driving back and forth to The Home Depot so many times that we have a specific handshake/fist bump with the guy who collects the carts. The sound of the waves and birds chirping are drowned out by power washers, jackhammers and even the click, click, click of keyboards. The SandPaper doubles in girth next week as we prep a myriad of accompanying seasonal publications.

Thing is, this year’s busy season is more like the slammed season. There is no time for messing around.

And you can blame that on the winter weather (although I’m sure some will blame it on Obama). To put it bluntly, winter gave us a good swift kick in our bits and pieces. Though locals are always ready to brave those negative wind chills to get a project done, when the ground is frozen or you have one nor’easter per week, it slows everything down. And now we’re paying for it.

I’m told that when the bay freezes down to the mud like that, it kills off the bacteria and algae, making for a healthier bay when spring returns. That, if it’s true, would be the only good that would come of the soul-crushing cold we had this winter and spring. Don’t get me wrong, the waves were epic, but the freeze was a bit much.

Now not only are we behind schedule, but the rent is past due. The winter cost us time, but the late winter – some folks naively call it “spring” – cost us money. Talk to any surf shop, deli, bar or real estate agency and they’ll tell you how poor the season has been. Now, I’m not sure anyone’s going to be standing on line for government cheese, but it definitely shakes through the whole local economy when it comes to hiring, buying and generally spending money.

Eventually the lack of spring/summer surf will wear on some of us, but for right now, having the windows open and a warm southwest breeze blowing out winter’s stale air might be the best feeling short of a backside tube. The mainland was downright tropical last week. And the onset of spring certainly helps us to get more done. I don’t know about you, but when first light is at 5:30 a.m. and it’s already 65 degrees, it’s a lot easier to hop out of bed and start the day. Nothing like landscaping before work or all you can get done with our current 16 hours of daylight. I think the guys framing the Arlington Beach Club at the Ship Bottom circle were putting up about one floor per hour when the sun was shining.

It’s go time. At this point, rain or unseasonable cold won’t matter. It has to get done. And in some cases, what folks wanted done at their summer homes by Memorial Day or when school gets out simply won’t be done. We can only do so much.

But for the most part, yeah, the Island will be ready for summer. Just be patient. We’re working on it.

THOUGHTS ON THE WSL FOUNDERS’ CUP: Last weekend, we saw the first official contest in the Kelly Slater Wave Company’s Surf Ranch in Lemoore, Calif. It was the WSL Founders’ Cup, a specialty event featuring five teams of World Tour athletes in a wave pool.

I will start off by saying that if you want to read some insightful editorial on this landmark event, you might want to find someone who likes to watch surf contests more than me. Of all the aspects of surfing, I find competitive surfing the least interesting. There are webcast junkies and hard-hitting surf journos who could probably give you a much better analysis of what this means to surfing. Aside from one or two events a year in critical surf, I don’t really watch these contests so much. Even when it was my job to report on them, I had little interest. You can lose four days of your life reading the endless opinions of the surfing world, a full week if you can read Portuguese.

So here’s my take: In 2015, the Association of Surfing Professionals became the World Surf League. The name change and new direction were designed to make surfing seem more like a pro sport. Instead of the sponsors handling the webcasts, they went to a uniform format for each event, with the same branded presentation throughout the season. They were looking to bring surfing to a bigger audience, which would allow their league to grow, and in turn, the surf industry.

The broadcasts have, without a doubt, become better produced and more professional. But I never minded the imperfections and inconsistencies. I never cared if surfing was presented on that level. In fact, when surf comps became more professionally produced, they lost something of the character. The camera work and views are fantastic, no doubt. But I miss the goofy commentating, the spontaneity, and the counter culture. If I wanted to watch professionally produced sports, there’s no lack of them. But you can’t argue that they upped their game.

However, I don’t know a single person who watches the new WSL events who didn’t watch ASP events. People who don’t play hockey, baseball and Olympic curling still watch hockey, baseball and Olympic curling. But do they watch surfing? I’d have to wonder if there’s been any significant jump in viewership.

What happened last weekend in Lemoore was historic. Don’t let my lack of enthusiasm dampen how amazing the Surf Ranch is. Taking financial motivation out of the equation, Kelly Slater has had a major influence on surfing for the 195th time. The ingenuity alone is a modern marvel of engineering. The wave is downright phenomenal. The Founders’ Cup was sold out and many folks in attendance were electrified by the whole thing.

It also allowed surfing to be a scheduled live sports event on CBS on Saturday, for the first time. Surf contests can’t really be slotted for a 2 p.m. slot because you have no idea what the ocean is going to do. The wave pool solves that, and last weekend, surfing came into the homes of millions of people on the same day as the Kentucky Derby.

It was awesome to watch ... for about five minutes.

There was a new team format, which was interesting. The surfing was amazing, as we knew it would be. The man-made wave, particularly the barrel, is still mind boggling. But we watched 25 athletes do almost the same thing on 180 identical waves. The number of truly progressive moments of surfing was less than 10.

I tuned in to see how it would go on live TV. As someone who remembers taping every ESPN “Hot Summer Night” that featured Surfer Mag TV and an occasional pre-recorded Huntington beach contest in the early ’90s because it was the only chance to see surfing, there was a novelty of watching surfing as a pro sport on Saturday afternoon. And granted, I would jump whatever hoops I had to in order to ride that wave.

But watching it?

The ratio of waves to commercials was rough. Of course, I’m not the target consumer. I will never drink Michelob Ultra or own a Jeep. To be honest, I don’t care all that much about Quiksilver.

But let’s talk about the action. I didn’t want to be a hater. You won’t catch me cleverly disguised as BetterThanSlater24 on the WSL website, making brash comments about how skullnumbingly boring it was or how real surfing should be in the ocean.

Yes, aside from the initial interest as a lifelong surfer watching a man-made mimic of the rarest natural beauty, it didn’t hold our attention. At least not mine.

I think I had to fully tune in to an event and feel the experience to know this, but there’s a certain level of excitement that comes from the uncontrolled nature of the ocean that makes surfing what it is. There’s more to a surfer picking a perfect wave to surf or surfing perfectly on an imperfect wave than we thought.

When the WSL returns to the Surf Ranch in September for the official WCT Tour Stop (Trestles got canned) I’d rather be surfing, or fishing, adventuring with my kid, or even doing yard work to free myself up to go do one of those things when the contest is on. I’ll catch the 30-second highlight reel that night in bed.

WAVES AND SUCH: It’s safe to say there were no 10-second tube rides on LBI this week. As is known to happen, as soon as the weather gets nice, the quality of surf fades. April and May can be tough months with less overall swell and water that is slow to warm.

The high points of the week were Saturday and Monday. Saturday morning had mostly offshore winds, although a slight northerly bend definitely had an adverse effect on the 2- to 3-foot south swell.

The tide got high pretty quickly as well. So while there were some decent, running rights out there, you had to pick your battles.

Monday was forecasted to be something of a wash. The winds were definitely onshore, but the surf still had some shape to it, especially early, with head-high sets.

It’s all been pretty typical of the season. The ocean, which had hit 50 degrees when I wrote my last column on April 25, was at the same temp on Saturday. Not only were surfers out in mostly winter gear, but this generally leads to more onshore winds when the air temp rises.

Another thing that’s hindering stoke at the moment is the summer sandbars have yet to set up. They’re trying. Many beaches have that scalloped look along the shoreline, which is mimicked on the sandbars, but the bars have yet to migrate westward and fill in the trough. Most waves ridden on Saturday were a quick up and down before hitting the deep hole on the inside.

But there is some good news. The coolish weather from early week will give way to more of that wonderful sunshine. We’ve also seen some east and northeast winds this week. In the short term, that makes the Island and, to a lesser extent, the mainland feel chilly. But it’s also going to warm the water up a few degrees. I don’t think it’s long before we’re in the high 50s.

As year-round surfers know, summertime gives us the least surf in size and consistency. However, once you’ve adjusted your expectations, summer sandbars and warm water make up for what summer lacks in juice. Once the sand is better and we’re back to 3-mil suits or less, surfing generally gets more fun.

We just have to get through this somewhat awkward stage, but when we do, early summer is a great time of year here. For locals and part-time residents, it’s a season to enjoy weather and warm water before the full summer crush.

NEXT UP: This weekend is Mother’s Day. Go take care of Mom and enjoy the day.

If you’re a mom, Sunday looks to be the nicest day of the week, so get out there and enjoy it. The ocean won’t be all that warm, but look at the wind forecast and plan for your paddle or beach walk. You earned it.

Expect a whole lot more going on around here in the next few weeks. Almost every local business is open on weekends and many will be giving you fun options for the early season. As for specific water and surf events, Wave Hog Surf Shop will have its annual Board Swap on May 19. This is a chance to unload your old sticks and maybe find some older sticks.

These swaps seem to get more popular every year. It’s not just longboards. Surfers are now looking to add a ’60s, ’70s or ’80s board to their collections and ride them through the summer. Wave Hog tends to have a good display of vintage gear out at these things as well. It’s also a great chance for up and coming shapers to show off their craft. If you’re any kind of surfboard nerd, it’s worth checking out.

Wave Hog’s older brother shop, Brighton Beach Surf Shop, will have another swap on June 16.

June 2 is the first paddle race of the season as South End Surf N’ Paddle presents the Hop Sauce Tune Up. As mentioned above, Hop Sauce Fest will move to Veterans Memorial Park this year. However, the Hop Sauce Tune Up will still be at the Taylor Avenue waterfront in Beach Haven, where it has been the last two years. It’s a cool way to start your day and makes the later festivities that much more fun.


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