Liquid Lines

What’s Cool to Ride in 2017? Pretty Much Anything

An Array of Surf Craft, Balloon Ban, and the Most Event-Packed Weekend of the Year
By JON COEN | Jun 21, 2017
Photo by: South-End Surf N’ Paddle Lots happening with the start of summer, including ShapeFest this Saturday at South-End Surf N’ Paddle.

“Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.” 

Henry David Thoreau.

It wasn’t so long ago that there were only a couple types of surfboards on LBI. A handful of guys rode longboards, mostly in the summer. Everyone else rode the same standard thruster shortboard. There were some variations to this, but only the slightest. Bigger and older surfers rode longer versions. All of these boards were essentially made of exactly the same materials.

In fact, all the foam came from one single foam factory in California. For all our talk of free-spirited independent thinking, we were conformists to the core.

Things got shaken up a little in the mid ’90s when the fish made a comeback. The new version of the ’70s-style, wide-point-forward twin fin design was great for small days. Aspects of the fish worked their way into hybrid shapes. But for the most part, it was the standard performance shorty. And on LBI, if you weren’t riding a Channel Islands thruster between 5-feet-9 and 6 feet, you were a flat out weirdo.

While a lot of things have gone downhill for surfing, attitudes toward board variety have gotten far better.

“I read somewhere that when a guy gets into his 50s, he wants what he had when he was at his peak. So if he rode dirt bikes, he looks for this collectible hot rod,” said Randy Budd, local surfer/shaper and uncle to the famed guitarist Aaron Budd of Funk Shway. “I got to a point where I wanted to ride a 7-foot-4 rounded pintail, the same shape I had when I was 17. So I bought one from Wave Hog a few years ago. I’ve been tweaking the shape, but that’s basically it, no matter what everyone else is riding now.”

After so many years of a mostly herd mentality, something happened 10 to 12 years ago where the weirdos became the trendsetters. Surfers started pulling things out of the past and being more creative about the future. Not only are more surfers out riding different boards today, but the average surfer has a variety of shapes.

First off, longboards aren’t just for old dudes. Logs made a comeback in the ’80s, but you rarely saw anyone under 40 years old or a summertime novice riding one. As it turns out, you don’t need a beer belly to swing a proper bottom turn. Today, there are young guys trimming and walking the nose on traditional logs, and doing it with style.

“I was never into riding a board that I sunk up to my clavicle when I was sitting on it,” added Budd, “And now I’m glad that bigger people are getting away from that board that doesn’t float them.”

Secondly, the options for materials have exploded tenfold. While many boards are still made with traditional polyurethane foam and polyester resin, epoxy has made huge inroads. I’m not particularly a fan of thousands of identical EPS boards that get spat out of a factory in Asia, but you have to admit those ugly “China boards” are pretty durable.

While true wooden boards are still somewhat of a novelty, for longboards there isn’t a huge performance difference with their foam and glass counterparts. This most basic and natural of materials is now part of some of the most technical boards. Today, you can find sticks integrated with cork, balsa and paulonia wood in your local shop.

And how about materials that have never before been used in surfboards? Look at Lib Tech, Lost, and Firewire – today’s technology makes 2002 look like the Stone Age. These sleds have a revolutionary construction and include materials like volcanic basalt. That’s about a lifetime away from Clark Foam.

Shapes have gone wild. Who would have thought we’d see square noses and asymmetrical boards?

“Randy Townsend (Surf City pro) has an asymmetrical board now, so it has to be acceptable,” Budd said, laughing.

And fins? Seriously, when it came to skegs, surfers have always been about as creative as the Imperial Russian Army marching on Poland. While there was a brief time in the early ’80s that single and twin fins existed with the thruster, once Simon Anderson introduced three fins, that was all anyone rode for the next 30 years. At the same time that surfers were going back to revisit the feel of a singlefin with the retro movement, we were experimenting with the speed of a quad. Go out on any day with a decent wave this summer and you will find surfers with everything from one to five fins, not to mention the varied setups of Bonzers, nubsters and two-plus-ones. Hell, you’ll see guys riding finless Beater Boards and traditional Hawaiian alaias. If you rode a board without fins in 1998, you were immediately placed into a mental institution.

And speaking of alaias, most of those are handmade. How many surfers do you see out there today on something built in a garage? There were always a few local shapers, going back to Richard Lisiewski of the famed Matador Surfboards label, Chito, Planet Blue, Line Drive, Kretzer, etc. While few surfers rode local shapes, even fewer attempted to shape something themselves. Plus, if you weren’t surfing a board by Al Merrick, did it even count?

Today you see surfers on boards they made themselves all the time. Do they all work well? No, but are you trying to qualify for the WQS World Tour surfing Holyoke Ave. before your shift waiting tables? There’s a certain satisfaction that comes from riding something you made with your own hands. And there are a few fellas pumping boards out of their garages and sheds today.

And I don’t mean to keep coming back to Channel Islands Surfboards. It’s just that for about 10 years, it’s all anyone rode on LBI. But I think C.I. was a big player in opening people’s eyes to boards with more foam, going back to the Biscuit, some of Rob Machado’s boards, and the revolution sparked by Dane Reynolds’ quiver about eight years ago.

Then, of course, there’s the mid-length boards, the 7- and 8-footers. Most of us know boards of this length as “funshapes,” boards generally geared toward beginners, big enough to catch waves but small enough to not get smashed around on the way out. But while funshapes are designed for the most basic surfing (and also shockingly good at being in the way), modern mid-lengths are performance oriented. Use of mid-length boards has grown significantly in California. We’re a bit slower to it here, but now you’re seeing a few older surfers opt for them in different conditions. (I still call it a funshape.)

A lot of this has to do with the change in the surf industry overall. There was a time the only surfers who got paychecks were the ones who competed. Although many brands have scaled back on ambassadors overall, the scope of professional surfing is much wider today – there are sponsored longboarders, freesurfers, and general free-thinkers who are influencing what we ride, rather than existing on the fringe.

Overall, I think it’s pretty fantastic.  Don’t get me wrong. When the surf is firing, I still want to be on my standard 6-foot-0 thruster. It gets you into waves and holds on the face. But overall, it’s just awesome to see so many surfers out and about on anything that floats rather than just mindlessly following what they think they should be riding.

BALLOONING THE ISSUE: If you haven’t heard, Long Beach Township adopted an ordinance to prohibit the intentional release of helium balloons in the municipality.

Let me start by saying that this is commendable. As the first town on the Island to make this illegal, it’s a great move on their part. My questions are this: What are the other towns waiting on? And someone has to explain to me how this ordinance wasn’t already covered by laws against littering.

Again, this is a step in the right direction, and making the move for a balloon-free LBI is awesome. I am not belittling the new ordinance. In fact, it’s progress toward getting the whole state to adopt the law.

But when was the last time you heard of a public balloon launch? The last one I remember was in my elementary school. We were all instructed to write notes on the balloons with the address of the school in hopes of getting a pen pal. We went out to the recess field and let a sea of colored helium balloons into the sky. For the rest of the school year, there were a few balloons stuck in the trees around the field. As latex is slow to break down, I imagine some of them are still there.

That was 1984.

I don’t think I have ever heard of a balloon launch on LBI. And who needs a pen pal when you can do a face swap with your cat on Snapchat? But I, like many others, am constantly picking up balloons off the beach. And if you spend any time offshore, you know the ocean is full of them.

What we really need is to stop buying helium balloons. Yes, I know, that’s a tough one. Folks have given my kid balloons and he spends hours floating them into the ceiling fan. But choking more turtles at a time when the oceans already face so many challenges, it’s time to just cut helium balloons out of our culture. And if Long Beach Township can lead the local charge on that (and while we’re at it, a ban of plastic bags on the Island), that’s a fantastic step in the right direction.

WAVES AND WIND… AND THEN MORE WIND: While the amount of surf has been way above average for the month of June, the quality has not been. We’ve basically been locked into a southerly flow pattern. Of course, south winds in the summer are about as predictable as out-of-state plates coming to a full stop on the Boulevard in front of Scojo’s. But in general, those southeasterlies die in the evening, and most mornings, the wind is either west or offshore.

The highlight of the week was Saturday morning, although you likely didn’t see it with all that fog. It was thick, but somewhere in all that pea soup was good surf. Again, tide and wind couldn’t get their acts together. Whereas the previous weekend’s swell was marked with high tide when the surf was clean, this week it was too low of a tide. Breaks in Harvey Cedars were shallow and shutting down. You had to find deeper spots. A few of those were working, and there were definitely some decent waves to be had. I have to imagine you could have stood at the top of the dune and counted 50 surfers on Saturday morning, if not for that fog. But shrouded in clouds, chest-high sets with clean faces made for some fun lines and even a turn or two. So thank the fog if you got some uncrowded waves.

It was hard to notice it, but I think the 20-second groundswell that was arriving from a storm that passed the coast of South Africa, now two weeks ago, was showing as well. Surfline has gotten good at tracking these swells. Every once in a while, a shoulder-high wave pushed through. It was nothing epic, but a novelty for the weather nerds in the water.

The surf improved with the incoming tide and could have gotten really fun if not for the wind coming up harder south. And then it blew (oh, it blew) right through Tuesday morning.

These weren’t your normal summertime souths, and while they kept some waves in the water, they certainly didn’t do anyone any favors, chopping up local waters and driving down the ocean temp. Most activities that dads are into – surfing, fishing, swimming with the kids, boating, clamming, etc. – were pretty much just a wash on Father’s Day, kiteboarding notwithstanding. Also, I wore a short-sleeve full suit in the water on Saturday morning. I can pretty much guarantee that by the time you are reading The SandPaper on Wednesday, the water has dropped a few icy degrees.

We may see some offshore winds midweek. That will be good for the surf, but not the water temp. But take advantage because then we go back to southerlies again, although a little more of a normal pattern.

TRY TO KEEP TRACK: These are the longest days of the year, so you can pack the most into them. And that’s good because there’s plenty coming up.

This Friday, June 23, Jetty wraps up the full Right Coast Roots tour with a final party at Farias Ship Bottom. This one promises to have fresh oysters, a chance to screen your own T-shirt and an opportunity to try the Jetty Session Ale if you haven’t yet.

Saturday will be a busy one. Surf Unlimited will start your day with yoga and surf at 8 a.m. Come down to 19th Street in Ship Bottom for a yoga class and mini surf lesson. The yoga alone is $15, the surf lesson is $20 and the combination package is $30. Call the shop to reserve a spot: 609-494-3555.

The Handplane Shaping Class with Greg Melega at Sink ’R Swim Men’s shop is full, but stay tuned to the shop’s website as there may be more opportunities for this later in the summer. Of all the various surfcraft mentioned in my opener this week, I didn’t even mention bodysurfing, which is insanely fun on a handplane and another way to enjoy waves.

Also, Saturday will be hopping down at South-End Surf N’ Paddle, which is hosting Shape Fest 2017. This is a celebration of music and surfboards. Here’s a chance to watch surfboards being shaped in real life as the South-End shaping bay will see foam mowing by locals Randy Budd of Pine Knot, Vince Balas of Planet Blue and Greg Melega of Papa Planes (yes, he’s doing double duty that day). It’s also a chance to watch Floridian Ricky Caroll shape. He’s one of the most noted shapers on the East Coast, having shaped for Takayama, Black Rose longboards, and his own RC label.

Saturday night is a live performance by the Ellameno Beat, the roots/reggae band from Florida that is starting a tour in support of its new album, Muse. There will be food, storytalk and general good times. It’s all at the shop, 220 South Bay Ave. in Beach Haven.

That same day is the opening of David Macomber’s show “The Formless and Folly” at the Birdland Gallery. For those who don’t know him through his surf industry roots, Macomber is a gifted artist who brings his more urban contemporary art lens to his coastal roots. The show will hang until July 9.

Also, many folks have asked about the status of Ryan Johnson, former SandPaper photographer and consistent photo contributor to “Liquid Lines.” Johnson and videographer Tony Coon, a couple of loved dudes in the community, were in a terrible motorcycle accident a few weeks ago. They still have procedures and rehab ahead, but both have been shooting and are recovering. You can check out Johnson’s work at his gallery showing on Thursday, June 29, at the Sink ’R Swim Men’s shop from 6 to 9 p.m.

I know it’s a lot, but before you know it, September will be flying by. So make the most of it. And if the surf ever cleans up, ride whatever the heck you want.

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