Oct. 13 – 16: Asbury Park, NJ

My impression of New Jersey consisted of The Sopranos and an accent marked by belligerence. During my time at the clusterfuck that was the EWR Airtrain station, that accent came out in the worst way: from a squat middle-aged white guy directed at the younger Black female airport employee tasked with keeping aggravated and aggro travelers from crushing each other. See, the Airtrain station is supposed to have two working trains, but one train was down, which meant the other one was tasked with double duty. The problem was, in addition to the extended wait time in the crowded station, knowing which direction the Airtrain was going wasn’t clear, and so people were squashing into the cars the minute the doors opened without letting the passengers inside exit. I saw the doors close on a woman’s arm because the rest of her body was inside the car, but she couldn’t squeeze her suitcase in. 

That’s when the workers were sent to try to create order and when the loudmouth jerk sounded off. When another guy told him to chill out, the response was, “I didn’t ask for your fucking opinion.” But when two other dudes stepped toward him with the directive to, essentially, STFU, he did the math and backed off. 

Anyway, I eventually got to Asbury Park. 

My New York-based coworker texted me at 10:30 p.m. to ask if he could use my laptop for a presentation the next day. “Sure, that’s probably fine,” I voice-texted back. 

“What is ‘probably’?” he responded. “Can I or not?” 

Apparently qualifiers and “yeah no yeah” don’t fly on that side of the country.

The next morning brought overhead barrels looking straight out of a surf magazine – and then the whales showed up, breaching and blowing and putting on a show I’d not expected to see while standing on a Jersey Shore boardwalk. The chatty local next to me (“chatty local” might be redundant in this context!) said they were right whales, an epic addition to an already stellar view. 

When our friendly Jersey chapter crew escorted us to the nearby surf break a couple towns north – every few blocks is another town, apparently, and this one consisted of posh homes used primarily for vacation – I realized for all my willingness to paddle out in challenging, cold, sharky swell, I had nothing on New Jersey surfers. Not only do they surf in truly freezing conditions, but paddling into those waves was like dropping into an elevator shaft. I managed to avoid getting smashed, found a reasonable wave on the inside between sets and got the hell out of there. 

Photo by @Bobby_Alan_

The conference itself educated me on the efforts of our Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Great Lakes chapters to further Surfrider’s mission of protecting the world’s ocean, waves and beaches. I love hearing what people are doing and learning what support I might be able to provide. I left inspired, as always, by the passion, smarts and commitment of our volunteers. I recalibrated my idea of the Jersey accent from “belligerent” to “no bullshit” and took back memories of East Coast sunrises, barreling waves, dancing whales and a wholly charming shore with me.

(Part 1 of this series: Newport, OR)

(Part 2: Minneapolis, MN)