The ocean was a playground for West Cape May surfers Tucker, Ty and Finn Collins on Thursday.
The brothers had the day off from school — they attend Westminster Christian Academy in Ocean City on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — so parents Michael and Jennifer Collins took them to the beach behind Cape May Beach Patrol headquarters.
They were not alone.
In a scene straight out of a Beach Boys song, nearly 50 surfers were spotted riding the swells at two spots in Cape May during what turned out to be an unexpectedly epic day.
Cape May once was a preferred stop for surfers. In the late 1960s and ‘70s, Stockton Avenue was the designated surfing beach, though there was also a secret spot for locals. On a given day, you could watch Harry and Jeffrey Gibbons, Steve McDuell, Mike Owen, Steve “Hag” Piacentine and others weaving around the pilings under Convention Hall in “The Backyard.”
A beach replenishment project pumped cubic yards of sand onto the coastline, creating more space for sunbathers. On the downside, the shore break eroded. Waves now break in knee- or even ankle-high water in most places, making surfing, bodysurfing and boogie-boarding a hazardous activity.
Most of the hard-core surfers now head to other breaks in North Wildwood, Sea Isle City, Ocean City, Atlantic City and, especially, Long Beach Island, where Rob Kelly made his famous ride through an icy barrel March 14, 2017.
If they do surf in Cape May, it’s most often at the Cove on the southern end of town, Queen Street or Poverty Avenue. But seldom are the waves above their waists.
Thursday was different.
While Florence opted to skip the Jersey Shore, she did blow a kiss toward Cape May, producing 8- to 10-foot waves that are seldom seen in the summer.
The best waves are usually in February or March, though riding them requires a mix of bravery and craziness, given the 35-degree water and 25-degree air.
On the day that Kelly caught his wave, Cape May’s Mickey Chew and others were at Queen Street. It was so cold I had to wear extra-thick mittens and a ski cap while I gripped my mug of hot chocolate — with a splash of Bailey’s to warm my heart and other body parts — and watched from the Promenade.
Chew, owner of Big Wave Burritos, was out there again Thursday, along with dozens of others.
More conservative surfers opted for the smaller, cleaner breaks at the Cove. More experienced riders headed out with the Collins boys at Grant Street.
There were about 25 in the lineup, ranging in age from 11-year-old Ty Collins to 59-year-old Steve Steger, who parked his Steger’s Beach Service truck, grabbed his board out of the back and paddled out.
The waves were both beautiful and scary. Chew, perched on a raft the size of a door mat, rocketed across the gray wall before bouncing along the froth.
Steger caught one and danced along its thick lip. When it began to break, he charged down the face, his back pressed against it, and carved out a series of turns.
Over on the beach, Finn Collins, clad in a wet suit, sat in a chair, his board laying next to them. After a few minutes, older brother Tucker, 12, came ashore and the two spent 30 minutes splashing and laughing in a puddle.
“Finn’s middle name is Maverick, after the famous surf break (in Half Moon Bay, California),” his father, Michael, said. “I know he wants to be out there, but he’s only 5 years old. He’s not quite ready for that.”
Give him another five years or so and he’ll be out there.
Chances are, Mickey Chew, Mike Owen and Steve Steger will be out there with him.
David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.