Big News From the Meadowlands and Big Surf on the Way – The SandPaper

Conor Willem, Skudin Surf, American Dream Wave pool, New Jersey, Ryan Mack, the Meadowlands

INDOOR OPTION: Conor Willem blasting airs last weekend at Skudin Surf, the new wave park at American Dream in East Rutherford. (Photo by Ryan Mack)

I very specifically recall getting press releases early in my journalism career about this massive undertaking in North Jersey, a giant indoor ski facility/waterpark/entertainment venue and mall. I believe it was called the Xanadu project … or perhaps the Esplanade? Shoot. I can’t remember. Am I getting this confused with a Sopranos episode? One of them promised indoor snowboarding and surfing  at the Meadowlands and one of them was an investment with Johnny Sack. Sack had some temper.

What I can say for sure is that now the whole thing is officially reality and open for business, including the 2- to 3-foot indoor wave, the first wave pool anywhere in New Jersey.

The first mention of this was so long ago that malls were still relevant. And after many years of starts, stops, a global recession, bankruptcies, Snooki jokes and rumors, it’s now open in East Rutherford and it’s called Skudin Surf at American Dream. Last weekend, LBI’s two pro/semi-pro/working class pro surfers, whatever you want to call them, Conor Willem and Randy Townsend, rode the wave with New Jersey’s best.

American Dream is the bigger waterpark where the wave pool is located. They’ve enlisted New York surfer Will Skudin as the resident surfer/coach. Skudin has defied the odds as a guy from Long Island on the Big Wave World Tour, but he also has a very successful surf camp out of Long Beach, N.Y.

“I’ll be honest, it’s the most fun I’ve had surfing anything under head high. I was relearning how to do airs,” Willem told me. “Randy obviously was ripping from the start. He blasted like 30 air. It’s a super weird but just cool experience all around, being indoors at night surfing in a chlorine pool. They worked really hard to create some of those waves. It’s more than worth it on a flat spell midwinter.”

The wave is not Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch. Sorry, not anywhere near that. But it is much better than, say, Wolf Creek Lodge or Typhoon Lagoon. It’s made for real, progressive surfing. The wave can be set to specifics, essentially ordering off a menu: an A-frame, under-the-lip-take-off barrel, and a left or right air section, as well as a rolling wave for kids and beginners.

Skudin Surf at American Dream New Jersey wave pool

Skudin Surf is part of the whole Dreamworks Waterpark at American Dream in the Meadowlands. (Photo courtesy Skudin Surf/American Dream.)

You can rent out the pool for a “session,” with two hours available in the morning and two hours in the evening. It’s $1,800 for a weeknight and $2,100 for a weekend night with anywhere from 50 to 150 waves an hour, depending on the setting. It’s not cheap, but break that down between you and nine friends and it’s $180 an hour or $240 for two hours and you apparently get plenty of waves. I would imagine groms could ride the inside of the same waves as well. Willem said the rotation they had with six guys was more than enough.

I don’t see how wave pools or surf parks can ever match the fun and intensity of surfing in the ocean, but let’s be honest, machines tend to cooperate better than the ocean.

HISTORY IN THE MAKING: We’re very likely about to live through history. And for all but folks who follow all things related to the weather, this historical landmark will soon be forgotten. When people look back on 2020, they’re not going to remember the number of hurricanes we had. They’re going to remember the run on toilet paper, the World Series and NBA finals in the same week, and the grown man stomping his feet outside of Wawa about wearing a mask.

The news dominating all things coastal this week will certainly be Tropical Storm/Hurricane Epsilon, which is a significant storm, even if it winds up not being a significant storm.

A little cryptic perhaps, but did you get that?

First the good news: Epsilon isn’t supposed to hit us. There’s little chance we’ll have a new Mancini Inlet cutting through Spray Beach on this storm. Yes, we are in a time of year where we stand a high statistical chance of a late-season hurricane or a big nor’easter walloping the Mid-Atlantic, but as of now the steering currents have it avoiding our hood. These Greek alphabet storms don’t have gender names, so I guess Epsilon will just have to be an “it.” Sorry, I mean no disrespect.

This time of year, the long-range weather models will often show storms coming close to us, dangerously close … fill the sandbags close. But in the days and weeks following, as the details come into clearer focus, they look to stay out to sea. Truth is, 15-day forecasts are actually not all that helpful unless you work for NOAA and/or have a formal meteorological education.

Tropical Storm Hurricane Epsilon The SandPaper

In an overactive season, Tropical Storm/Hurricane Epsilon may break some records. (Photo Courtesy of NOAA)

Now the really good news: We’re likely going to have waves. And considerable waves on a weekend, which we have not had in some time. We’ll get to the ins and outs of that in a moment, but we kind of have to address what it means to be on the 26th named storm of the year.

2020 is now one storm shy of catching 2005 (28 named storms) as the most named storms in a single season. Does that mean that if we have two more storms, 2020 is the most active season ever? Well, it turns out there are a few ways to measure that. Named storms are a good metric, but accumulated cyclonic activity may be a better one. That’s the total recorded energy of all the storms combined. And in terms of that, 2015 came in at an index of 92, while 2020 is currently at an index of 123. And while every weather-related death is significant, remember that the Atlantic hurricane season of 2005 saw nearly 4,000 fatalities. About 1,500 of those were from Hurricane Katrina alone. By those numbers and the amount of damage, this year had much less impact, thankfully. I’ll take one less hurricane swell if it means not sweating out the track forecast spaghetti models all fall.

That will always be the thing with hurricane season. As surfers we love the storms. As coastal dwellers, we hate the destruction and loss of life. This wasn’t the greatest hurricane season for waves for us. It was good, but we’ve had other swell producers. We had maybe three real hurricane swells (four if you count Delta last week) this year, but the Caribbean has been lit up like the yard of that guy down the block who smokes Newports and started his Halloween display the second week of September. It also wasn’t the most destructive, simply because a lot of those storms that hit the Gulf didn’t plow into the more populated areas.

And as I have been saying for a few weeks now, this season ain’t over.

AND SPEAKING OF LANDMARKS: I guess we should have seen this coming, what with folks leaving cities, running companies from their kitchens and LBI real estate being hotter than that 22-year-old Instagram girl who hangs out at her parents’ beach house taking selfies all day.

If you haven’t heard the news, Dom’s Drive-In sold. It was the last place on LBI where a tuna sandwich was less than $12. And while Dom’s may be the most nostalgic and high-profile property on the Boulevard to change hands this year, it’s certainly not the only one. The pandemic changes will certainly lead to more LBI memories meeting the destructive claws of the excavator as developers build the same three models of house one after another with perfectly manicured river stone and one ornamental grass.

I’m not sure what the solution is. Money wins nine times out of 10 (9.5 times in coastal towns). You have to wonder what LBI life and vacations will look like a decade from now. Will we sit in our 4,000-square-foot, climate controlled, vinyl-sided pods and tell youg’uns about the old days when we used to walk for ice cream down the street from the charming beach houses while Amazon sends us our freeze-dried soft serve by drone?

ANOTHER RUN OF WAVES: Hey, here’s our weekly love letter to October. I certainly hope September doesn’t get jealous. Hey, we love you both.

Yes, as confounding and livestream as this year has been, we have to remain extremely grateful for the idyllic weather we’ve had the last three months. Even the handful of crappy days have at least produced fun surf. The temperatures have been mostly glorious, and the ocean water is still warm enough for a 3-mil, or perhaps less for short sessions in the middle of the day. I saw a guy who had to be in his 70s out on a bodyboard this weekend in trunks and a top!

Last week’s waves were technically a hurricane swell, as Hurricane Delta hit Louisiana (the fourth hurricane of the year there, a record in itself) as a Cat 2 storm and then made a right turn across the Southeast, setting up as a nor’easter-type storm off the Outer Banks. The storm gave us some pretty intense onshore winds early last week. But instead of going from east winds to offshore, the wind went south for a few hours, adding another swell component. It was, as my friend put it, “a combo swell, but not the right combo.”

The South End was relatively small while the best spots mid-Island and north served up some beefy overhead peaks. The local chargers and visiting surfers were able to backdoor a few, but the general angle was funky. There were a lot of tall ones that offered a steep drop and no real line. Not the worst conditions, but certainly not what we had the past few weeks.

Honestly, Wednesday morning was much smaller but had far better swell direction when things ironed out. The sets were chest high at best, but some of them really lined up and the wind was offshore through the morning dropping tide for some really fun, rideable waves.

The swell dropped off late week, but Sunday held a nice little surprise wave. Again, this was nothing big, mostly a longboard wave, but as clean as it gets and well-shaped lefts, some of which went forever. These are kind of the bread and butter days that make October so special, the days between the bombing swells.

The surf came up a bit early in the week with some fun conditions Monday morning before the wind came up harder onshore. That led to consistent surf in that waist- to chest-high range for the early week. You could have found a wave at any point, but unfortunately, we never had great winds.

AND MORE TO COME: With Epsilon out in the ocean, we should see a little combination of groundswell and local windswell on Thursday. The winds look pretty good as well. There’s a good chance that a couple of sandbars will be working.

As stated earlier, all eyes are on Epsilon, which should be near or at Bermuda by Friday. While there are some factors that point to intensification (we’re likely looking at a Cat 2) the water is about 80 degrees now in that zone. When we watch a lot of these storms form in the Main Development Region, the sea surface temps can be 82 or higher. But we don’t really need a major hurricane to produce waves, especially that close. As we are pretty confident that Epsilon will stay out to sea, look for the surf Friday to bump up to that overhead range. All indications are that we will have pretty sizable surf right into next week. It’s not clear right now when the cleanup will be or if there’s even one coming.

If your plans don’t include paddling into hurricane swell but some other outdoor pursuit, Friday and Saturday look to be more glorious weather. Sunday, not so much.

STUFF AND HAPPENINGS: Well the one consistent on the docket the past few weeks has been the Jetty Clam Jam, which has been waiting for waves. With all the waves during the week, the weekends have been flat to small, nothing worth having the contest in. But we’re finally looking at some solid swell this weekend.

It’s a bit early to call, but as of now, Saturday looks like the bigger day with better winds. Sunday looks to be a bit smaller but still head-high, with moderate northeast winds. We know that forecast will change some, but there’s a very good chance that the Clam Jam will be this weekend. Either day, it will be an 8 a.m. start, with registration at 7 a.m. at 68th Street in Brant Beach.

Not a whole lot planned after that, nor is there any indication of swell for next week. But there’s always that new wave pool and “The Sopranos” on Hulu.