Hopefully your family is having a good summer. Now that the sandbars have formed, hopefully the kids are running across the flats at low tide and flopping into the water. (That is, when there aren’t ice chunks floating in it.)
Hopefully they’re riding waves – careening beachward bodysurfing, bodyboarding, on an inflatable swan or maybe the Heineken Surfboard you grabbed off the wall before the Quarter Deck got torn down. And then they go running up the beach, lie in the warm sand by the dunes and wait for the ice cream man.
And hopefully, you have had plenty of days of sitting on your beach chair, exhausted after dragging up the beach cart, umbrella, chairs, fishing poles and aforementioned Heineken board. And hopefully there were bay concerts, boat days, fireworks and clamming trips in there.
Because some families haven’t had the opportunity to do all that. They have children with special needs, and just getting through the week is a huge challenge.
Well, last Sunday, that second group, about 70 families, was standing by the water’s edge in Brant Beach as their children enjoyed one day of something that the rest of us take for granted. It was the Waves of Strength event in Brant Beach, and there are few things that happen on our beaches that are more emotional.
“It’s great to see the event grow every year with the help of the community,” said Robert Simek, the founder and lead organizer of Waves for Strength. “I see more volunteers every year and more tears of joy, including my own. Without the surfers, volunteers and sponsors, this could never happen. I want to give a big thank-you to the surfers who help out and LBI community. I keep hearing people say it was the best day of the year. Next year will be the fifth annual and hopefully the best yet.”
Yes, there were people literally brought to tears. Maybe that’s why they call it “surf therapy.”
But my question is who is the therapy for? Because from what I could see, the more than 120 locals who came down to volunteer may have gotten more out of it than the participants.
Most of those in the water were local surfers, who took the kids out on big boards, kept them calm, made them feel safe, pushed them into waves, encouraged them and caught them on the inside. As each kid rode their wave to the beach, the crowd of friends and families standing in the shallows would explode into a cheer.
As many of us know, the ocean tends to have a calming effect. Despite the cold water, when most of the kids got out there, they seemed more relaxed.
There are volumes of science about what the water and natural world can do to for our mind and feelings at the most basic level. If you’ve surfed for decades, you may not even realize it anymore as your surfing life becomes more complex with different equipment, style of surfing, gear, travel, etc. But we’re still setting our lives up around that high.
Additionally, there are not too many displays of pure joy like watching a kid ride one of their first waves, but when that kid has so many physical and emotional struggles in their everyday life, the impact of that smile is so much greater.
So when Simek talks about shedding a tear, it’s not just hyperbole. I heard multiple surfers admit they may have had a salty fluid around their eyes that they just played off as ocean water.
These are surfers who would leave their own families hungry and cold because the wind went offshore. These are surfers who I have seen pull into 8-foot man-eating tubes during a snowstorm. These are surfers who would catch the best wave of a set, then sprint-paddle right past you to get position for the next bomb wave and then steal your lunch in the parking lot (OK, maybe not that last part). But you get the idea. Some of them were profoundly affected by these kids.
Sharing surfing is a powerful thing.
WELL, HOW ABOUT SOME MORE UPWELLING?: Hey, the ocean temps dropped again. How about that!
After the surf temps came up to the comfy summer range in the middle of last week, the wind came hard south again on Saturday and chilled off the water for Sunday. By Monday, we were back in the high 50s, and Tuesday was dipping to 55.
The story of the surf temps this season has been like trying to pet a lobster. When the ocean dipped down in the middle of June, we noted that the water had gotten cold, but that’s what happens at the start of summer, thanks to upwelling. When the water dropped from near 70 to the low 50s on July 4th weekend, we noted it was unusual, but we could remember other times that the surf cooled significantly in early July. As the trend continued through the month, it became a topic of conversation all around the tristate area with regional news explaining upwelling. The strong Bermuda High pressure meant that the hotter the air got, the colder the water got. Surfers and other water folks started looking back some 35 years to the last time it had been that cold that late in the season.
When it happened again in late July, it made a lot of us question what we thought we knew about upwelling. We wondered what was different about this summer, examining the heat waves and relentless southerly winds. I had to rethink my theory that by that point in the summer, the water was mixing in the water column and there wasn’t as much cold water to infiltrate. Usually by the end of July, we’ve had one summer nor’easter or tropical storm in the area. Perhaps the lack of such a storm this year had kept the frigid waters in place, ready to visit our beaches every week.
But conventional knowledge told us the ocean would warm up by August. Outside of one instance, it always does … uh, right?
So when the ocean chilled off again this week with the Atlantic City Pier buoy (usually a bit warmer than LBI) reading 56, it was a bit of a wake-up call. We may be charting new territories of late-summer cold water here, even as temps over land have been stinkin’ steamy.
CHANGES AND WAVES: Say what you will about the Bermuda High, the surf hasn’t been completely flat very often this summer. At almost any point, you could have gone out and logged a cold little knee-high line.
All weekend produced a consistent tiny wave that had good angle. Mornings were best with the low tide and light wind. Tuesday’s surf got up to 3 foot. Mind the fact that the warmer water late last week meant a less dramatic difference between the air and water, so the wind actually abated in the evening. When the water gets that cold, the wind just rips all night.
But overall, there was nothing special this week. In fact, there has been nothing special all summer. Yes, it has rarely been flat, and we’ve had something for the longboards and maybe a fish, but aside from those shoulder-high sets on the morning of July 22, it has been a lackluster summer for swell.
It does finally look like the pattern is going to break. By as early as Thursday, things could feel much different on the backside of the cold front that brought the unsettled weather. Look for the air temps to drop, humidity to give us a break and the ocean to get warm.
I can’t say for sure if the surf sitch will get better, but there are some signs that a low-pressure system may set up late week to our northeast, which could bump us up a bit. As of now, the weekend looks better than late week.
MEANWHILE, DOWN ON THE EQUATOR: Every year, the best and brightest in the game of tropical meteorology give us a pelican’s eye view of what we should expect well before summer starts. Think of this as more of a “here’s what we think for the season” than an actual forecast for a specific storm. The various players – the veterans at Colorado State University, the eggheads at NOAA and the glitzy Weather Channel crew – give various pre-season extended range predictions from December to May. Then they give us an update in June according to what they see setting up. Last week, a bunch of the top hotshots rolled out what they think the meat of the season – August through October – will bring.
While the pre-summer prognosticating called for a heavy year of activity (and early in the season saw a short outburst of action), we haven’t seen any tropical activity since July 3, and none of the early storms reached hurricane status. Now predictions are for a tad less activity, but a pretty formidable season by the time things wrap up. The hemisphere is currently in a La Niña phase, which historically has been good for hurricane development.
And this week, for the first time in five weeks, there’s some action. We have some previously unsettled weather in the Caribbean and Gulf early week, neither of which will have much impact. But the system everyone is eyeballing is a low that came off Africa. We should have a much better picture by late week if this will become Tropical Storm Danielle.
NOTE: I am well aware that there are surfers who read my column as well as folks who just love the beach and Island. I try to include info for both. As we say every year, while waveriders may love hurricane swell, no one is rooting for landfalling hurricanes and the damage/danger they bring. To be honest, major hurricanes rarely produce good surf for us anyway. Let’s hope for a few nice tropical storms or Cat 1 hurricanes in our swell window, but not in our living rooms.
HOW IS IT MID-AUGUST ALREADY?: Here it is. The first NFL preseason games have started, marking the annual turn of society’s fascination with the summer coastline back to fantasy teams and pregame shows. It’s a subtle transition, but you’ll notice it with the drier weather on the way.
And whether your September is going to be spent basking in the shoulder season glory of Island life or back to more inland pursuits, you may want to make the most of August offerings. Start tonight with Reggae Night at Bird & Betty’s in Beach Haven at 9 p.m. Longtime reggae favs (they’ve been around since the early ’80s) No Discipline will be playing some classic covers and originals as they open for Philly ska-punk-reggae band Eastern Function.
This Thursday, the Long Beach Township Field Station’s weekly Lecture Series features the horseshoe crab. From 10 to 11:30 a.m., explore the life history, anatomy and ecological importance of this strange, ancient crustacean and discuss how the American Littoral Society monitors them.
And Thursday night, local photog Ryan Johnson shows off his latest work at the Ann Coen Pop Up in Beach Haven. The show is called “Devotion” and will feature his documentation of live hardcore punk bands and some local seascapes.
This Saturday is the Alliance for a Living Ocean LBI Longboard Classic. The event field is full, but it’s a really good time and a great cause if you want to head to the 68th Street beach in Brant Beach to watch some great noseriding, enjoy some music and hang out for the day. In the case of no waves, the event will be moved to Sunday.
Monday night, Farias Surf Night presents Des and the Swagmatics at Bird & Betty’s. This week’s sponsor will be Vans, so look out for some great giveaways.
The following Monday, Aug. 22, the Ship Bottom Beach Patrol will host the Barnegat Bay Challenge, the annual 5-mile paddle race. Registration runs from 5 to 6 p.m. with the race to follow.
The sun is now setting around 8 pm. The days are already getting shorter. … Just sayin’.