The beach had that summer Sunday night feel.
The heat had finally relented a bit. The daytime crowd had cleared out save for a few late loungers and kids looking to get a few small waves at low tide. The garbage and recycling cans overflowed with takeout containers, White Claw empties and Chinese-made beach chairs designed to be used exactly once and then left for the public works crews to deal with on Monday morning.
I had just survived a street basketball game with my niece and nephews without any rolled ankles or incidents on the sandy road. They’ve gotten good at adjusting jump shots for afternoon south winds. We were all looking for a quick dive in the drink to cool off.
As we headed toward the water, I noticed a guy chasing a sea gull.
This is not an uncommon sight in the summer. If you’ve ever had so much as a single tortilla chip on our sands, you know how opportunistic our beachfront wildlife can be. You’ve likely witnessed what happens when a family leaves a bag of Funyuns on a towel and goes for a swim. And there’s always some guy who rushes in to quell the frenzy.
I’ve heard several accounts that the feathered nemeses have been even more aggo than usual this season. Normally animals become more active when they have less resources. You’ll notice more deer in neighborhoods and on the Parkway during a drought, as they become bolder, looking for water. Then again, it would be fair to say that with all the carry-out and outdoor dining, sea gulls should be better fed than ever. Perhaps the gulls are competing for food with the thousands of pelicans that seem to live in New Jersey now. Or maybe all those fries and tartar sauce have them feeling invincible? Earlier this month I saw with my own eyes a sea gull lift a golden fried softshell crab from a fried seafood combo platter. He knew exactly what he was going for – anything with an “MP” next to it on the menu is the prime target.
You could say I’m being a little hard on the sea gulls, especially after having tackled one that had its beak hooked to its wing with a fishing lure and removing it, without getting so much as a thank-you, years ago. (Still waiting.) I’ve had a lifetime of picking up trash in the street on account of uncovered garbage cans and unwitting vacationers. Humans have a soft spot for cute or endangered animals. Sea gulls are neither, aside from one named Buckethead who used to hang out at Polly’s Dock in Beach Haven with the late Herman Joorman. Plus two weeks ago, a sea gull pooped on my head. So I’m not really feeling any empathy toward the sky rats at this moment.
OK, back to the story at hand. So, here’s this guy, in hot pursuit of the sea gull. As they got closer, the guy informs everyone in the earshot that this particular sea gull has caught a baby shark.
And just in case your first reaction is “Ba-by shark, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo
Baby shark, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo ...” I fully understand…
“Mommy Shark, doo, doo, doo, doo” –
OK, that’s enough.
Anyway, sure enough, the sea gull has what is very likely a small spiny dogfish in its beak. And that is quite interesting. Sea gulls have been known to eat other birds and even rats. But this is 2020, with black bears roaming around Bubbakoo’s Burritos and banner planes making playful dives into the sea, among the historic social justice movement and global pandemic in the news. No big deal. So we walk out onto the sandbar, have a chat, watch the kids ride some micro waves, bodysurf a few and generally enjoy the water temp, which has dropped a few degrees with the south wind.
When I came back in and grabbed my shirt, I noticed a sea gull by the waterline. The tail of a baby shark was hanging out of its mouth. Apparently, he had been working on swallowing this prehistoric animal the whole time.
I stopped and watched as the bird put its head back and downed the rest of the shark, waddled a few feet and then flew off to the dunes.
Most weeks, for the intro of Liquid Lines, I try to make a point: why you should volunteer in helping challenged children catch a wave, the comical nature of tourists in athleisure wear, how grateful we are for good surf, don’t be a racist … things like that.
This week, I don’t have a point. Or maybe it’s don’t mess with a sea gull that eats a shark.
WAVE GOOD-BYE: OK, who the hell jinxed us?
Seriously, who had to go and put the bad juju hex on the waves? July started off with so much surf, but then we had about 10 days of desperation and longboard waves, the kind of lacking swell that gives summer a bad rap.
Still, it is summer and even the “flat” days have given us the opportunity to ride those big boards or enjoy waves with kids in warm water. The best of it was likely Monday morning, with a few waves that pushed 2 foot. But we also had our first real upwelling event of the summer, and the water had some chill to it.
I also want to make a correction to last week’s column when I said the tropics were looking about as interesting as a cross-country snowboard event. No sooner did those words get published than the tropics, both Atlantic and Pacific, lit up like the 4th of July – and not just any 4th of July, but a pandemic 4th of July where everyone in the neighborhood is half in the bag and setting off bottle rockets in the street.
There was nary a disturbance out there, and then everything popped off. What I mentioned as that benign system in the Gulf turned out to be Hurricane Hanna, our first hurricane of the year. It was the earliest eighth-named storm by a lot, and ramped up to winds of 90 mph right before making landfall at Padre Island, Texas. Fortunately it didn’t claim any lives, but there was damage to property and Bob Hall Pier. Now try to imagine that recovery effort in the midst of all those new Texas COVID cases. Let’s hope our hemisphere can avoid landfalls this season. Do we need any more of a mess?
Meanwhile, another area of disturbance became Tropical Storm Gonzalo last Wednesday. Gonzalo had a very small impact as a wavemaker, remained a fairly small storm and ran through the southern Caribbean. Hence, we did have some action in the tropics, but none that affected us all that much.
Look for an uptick from the flat surf later this week. There is a broad area of weather moving across the Main Development Region of the tropics. While the track looks OK, chances are not super high that it will really develop, as for the guys at Surfline. While the tropics are not likely to go nuts to end out July, we should get back to that consistent summer pattern of 2- and occasionally 3- foot waves at the lower tides. The jinx is over.
PADDLING MOLOKAI TO BARNEGAT LIGHT?: Like everything else that got shut down this year, the famed Molokai2Oahu, the world championship of paddleboarding, had to be canceled for last weekend. But in a pretty smart move, the event directors made this a virtual race, and not as in “hey, we’re going to paddle from one Hawaiian Island to another, while you watch from home.”
No, they cut the race length in half and invited everyone in the paddle world to make their own 16-mile course and do the paddle last weekend, sharing the experiences online.
Ship Bottom’s Johnny Skolnick and Barnegat Light’s Hugh Shields, 17, have done the race in the past. They got a cadre of LBI paddlers, and all decided to do it together.
They stored their boards at Bowker’s South Beach Deli and Grill the night before, and then started at dawn Sunday from the Wooden Jetty in Holgate. Skolnick, Shields, Shawn Hannon, Keith Stokes, Bob Donnely, Sam Candio and Hugh’s father, John, all did the 16-mile paddle to Barnegat Light.
“It was really cool to be a part of,” said John Shields, who accompanied his son Hugh to Hawaii last year to watch him paddle the Molokai Channel. “Fourteen hundred people registered and did it all over the world, as opposed to the couple hundred that usually travel to Hawaii. So people were throwing up videos from everywhere.”
The crew had the wind and current at their backs and made the long trip on the ocean side with all good vibes.
ABOUT THAT RAIN: You could be forgiven if you’re not sure which “storm” people might be referring to when they talk about the storm we had. Was it the tropical storm that hit LBI a few weeks back? Was it the crazy sudden windstorm of last Wednesday? Or was it the deluge storm last Friday afternoon? It’s a heck of a summer to manage a restaurant with outdoor dining.
For the sake of this conversation, let’s talk about that July 24 drenching-flooding-holy hell-rainstorm.
Oftentimes locals like to downplay weather events and ocean conditions to summer folks. It’s a lot like the way Hawaiians judge the size of the waves. You can come in from a session at Laniake and sit down to talk about those 8-foot bombs you were trading over a plate of delicious pupus, and your Hawaiian friend will say something like, “Oh no, cuz, it was like 3-foot.”
And you’ll insist that the wave was overhead.
And he will say, “Nah, brah; wasn’t ovahead. Mo betta say 2-foot …”
And you’ll ask, “So you’re calling that 2-foot Hawaiian?”
To which he will respond, “Hawaiian? No, cuz. Mo like 1-foot Hawaiian … on da sets.”
And that’s how we roll around here when our friends from Bryn Mawr and Mahwah are around, or buds from Morristown or Moorestown (I still don’t know which is which) are in earshot.
“Oh, that wasn’t a storm,” we say. “That was like an average Tuesday in October.”
And granted, even for a place that always seems to be the epicenter for radical meteorology, our weather is far more extreme post-Labor Day. An awful lot of springtime quarantiners were in shock this year as they listened to winds nearly rip the roofs off their second homes and experienced winter weather temps right up to Memorial Day.
It is important, however, to mention the difference between storm surge flooding and rain flooding. Storm surge is generally an effect of an ocean system – tropical storms/hurricanes in the summer, nor’easters and other complex low pressure systems in the winter. Very simply, when the wind and swell force all that water through the inlets and into the bay, it starts to back up through the storm drains or come over the bulkheads. That can have rain on top of it, but it’s usually caused by storms of longer duration. And it’s salt water.
Rain flooding is simply a huge amount of moisture being unleashed by the atmosphere all at once, which is helped when there’s warmer air at play. And it’s fresh water.
The Island has very little pervious surface to absorb (no one brags about percentages of impervious surface in real estate listings) all that water. And since we have all raised our property with fill dirt, the roads fill with rainwater like the canals of Venice. The towns have made efforts to mitigate the lowest spots and even buy flood-prone properties, but we have to remember we live on a sandbar.
But the saltiest of local salts will have to admit last week’s downpour, which had religious folks Googling “Ark blueprint PDF,” was a soaker by any standard. In fact, even though summer can sometimes feel like our “dry season,” after one rainy day following the weeks of rain in May and April, we still get seriously wet in the summer. The unstable atmosphere unloads a lot more moisture in a short amount of time when it’s hot out.
So while it was fun for some in the form of bodyboarding down the Boulevard, it wasn’t as much fun for those who are now out shopping for a new car this week.
(“Excuse me, does the 2020 come in the amphibious option?”)
In short, that was more flooding than we normally get from heavy rains.
STUFF COMING UP: Well, for the last few months, this part of the column has been talking about the two big surf/beach events that will happen this summer and could be about the only ones of 2020, thanks to the never-ending bummer known as the coronavirus. And now it seems like they will both happen in the same weekend. So drink some water, rest up and get ready for one weekend of fun.
Saturday is the 12th annual Alliance for A Living Ocean Longboard Classic, what many surf families consider the most fun day of the year. The contest starts at 8 a.m. and is at Ship Bottom’s 17th Street beach. The theme of the day is classic longboards on the equipment from surfing’s 1960s golden age. Registration is full, and this is the biggest fundraiser of the year for ALO. The surf looks small to start the day, hopefully picking up as the day progresses.
Get yourself to bed early and out to 68th Street in Brant Beach on Sunday for the 12th annual Jetty Coquina Jam presented by Equity Prime Mortgage, a split fundraiser for David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation and the Jetty Rock Foundation. This event is rescheduled from last weekend, on account of lack of waves. A day of female surfing, sun, food, drink and music, this is an absolute must-do event for the women who surf here. The participants have already raised over $20,000, an amazing feat that will benefit families battling a cancer diagnosis, and also benefit community initiatives of the Jetty Rock Foundation.
I want to stress that both organizations have done their due diligence with the municipalities in planning for events with little contact and good distancing guidelines. The science supports that events can be safe if they are outside with limited close congregation, and masks when necessary. While everyone is welcome at these events, adhere to the regulations so as to not cause any spread of infection. And if you have symptoms, stay home and donate online.
Beyond that, the Waves of Strength event is Aug. 9, 8 a.m. to noon. See how you can help give the experience of riding a wave to a kid who faces a lot of obstacles in life.
There are normally a few paddle races on the back half of September that could certainly happen with some common-sense guidelines. I will keep you posted on those.
Get some sleep. It could be a hell of a weekend.