One Kook’s Safari: So far, ’14 has been an excellent summer for waves

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Greg Beck said he knew the waves were going to be good on Wednesday.

Everything was in place for a nice session in the early evening, after the Peck’s Beach Surf contest finished up. He expected some nice clean, summer waves.

“We didn’t think it was going to be that good,” he said.

As sunset closed in on Wednesday, there they were, set after set of clean, chest-high waves, with a nice shape and no real advanced warning, which meant that instead of the overpacked breaks full of surfer from states away like we saw for Hurricane Bertha, things weren’t too crowded.

All in all, this has been an exceptional summer, Beck said Thursday morning, fitting in some time to talk waves at his shop, Surfers Supplies at 3101 Asbury Ave. in Ocean City.

On Wednesday, the surf shop he owns with Andrew Funk hosted the 37th Peck’s Beach Surf Contest, which was founded by the late, beloved George Gerlach as a way to introduce young people to competitive surfing in a friendly, positive atmosphere. This was the first time the event had been held at 59th Street. The money raised goes to the Ocean City Humane Society.

It was originally set for Aug. 6, but the Hurricane Bertha waves were too big for a contest for young surfers. The hurricane passed well off the coast, presenting what Beck described as the best scenario for Jersey waves.

“A hurricane is basically a supercharged low-pressure system,” he said. “It becomes so intense that waves emanate out from the center in all directions.”

Think of dropping a rock into a puddle. The ripples just keep rolling away in all directions, until reach the edge. In the best surfing places, such as the north shore of Hawaii in winter, the waves roll in from storms passing hundreds of miles away. It’s called ground swell. In South Jersey, when a hurricane passes far enough out to sea that the beach still has sunshine, and with enough force to push up some sizable waves, that can  mean classic surfing conditions.

Both Bertha and Hurricane Arthur gave us good-sized waves without the hurricane cleanup. Most years, surfers have to wait until late September or October for those kinds of waves. Through the summer, surfers make do with what are called local wind swell waves. Waves are created by wind moving over water, but local wind swell refers to waves created by wind near the shore.

“Around here, we have to be happy with any swell with get,” Beck said. But the local wind swell on Wednesday was about as good as could be found on a summer wave without a hurricane. He described it as “downright serendipitous.”

We saw all sorts of waves this summer, including some choppy, blown-out days and tiny, clean sweet ones last weekend in water so clear that you could see the shadow of your board against the sand on the bottom. There were also a few standout days like Wednesday. As the sun dropped, the surfers kept waiting for that next set, riding through the twilight until it got too dark to see the waves. 

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