Story by: Jon Coen
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In general, cold water surfing doesn’t look all that good. Surf journos (this one included) have romanticized it for decades, but a 5-mil wetsuit isn’t flattering on anyone. They don’t feel great either. Dudes will tell you that #Lifesbetterina5mil, but what athlete would rather be ensconced in a tight body condom than pulling in bareback? Winter wetsuits are about as sexy as pajama pants with Uggs.
Winter doesn’t always look so comely. The sky is gray. The dunes are brown. The ocean is greyish brown. We claim to love winter surfing because we love surfing. Period. It just so happens that for much of the East Coast, winter produces the heaviest swells. New Jersey had six weeks of tropical groundswell starting late summer. But one single October south swell made it all look silly. Winter means less heads, more dredge.
Between frigid flatspells, waves unload on our beaches in the winter. Good waves. And while there’s barely any room left at every hollow wave in the world, the fact that you can occasionally score shacks at a random sandbar with just a few friends makes New Jersey special. And every once in while, it comes off looking like the Surfers Journal was hired to design an LL Bean catalogue. For a winter weekend, or a day, or a few hours, it turns magical.
Last Sunday, the Garden State looked idyllic for the Cold War. Andrew Gesler’s tall frame doesn’t look bad in a 5-mil. Crystal head-high tubes fired across the well-shaped sandbar. Asbury Park’s handsome beachfront architecture made for a beautiful surf venue. Hell, half the surfers are male models. There was no ugly littoral drift like most winter swells. Ben Graeff even looked good with that GoPro hanging out of his mouth.
And let’s face it, the dusting of snow was absolutely adorable.
This is what the Cold War was supposed to be – the best surfers from the Mid-Atlantic in the spotlight with a window period to get ideal winter conditions, a full celebration of the sub-subculture. Lavallette’s Sam Hammer and Ocean City’s Andrew Gesler a couple of Jersey lookers, had picked two attractive teams. It just took a bit of time to make it so pretty.
Despite this part of the Atlantic being more active in March than any other time of year, the first Cold War in 2016 only saw chest-high onshore waves. Event directors Rob Cloupe, Sam Hammer, and Tim Donnelly decided not to hold the event at all last March to preserve the integrity of the event. So when they reopened the waiting period and a nifty little swell showed up with a few inches of fresh, that was the first victory of the day.
The second win went to Team Gesler, comprised of Mike Gleason, Clay Pollioni, Ben McBrien, Brendan Tighe, Travis Beckman, Randy Townsend, Connor Willem and Rob Kelly. They won 5-4 over Hammer’s squad of Logan Kamen, Vince Boulanger, Simon Hetrick, Tommy Ihnken, Zack Dayton, Ben Graeff, Balaram Stack, and Pat Schmidt, the last two who flew back from their North Shore residencies to try to stake their own chilly claims.
Beckman was smooth as a freshly shaved face. Vince Boulanger’s attack had that rugged look that all the ladies love. Baby faced Logan Kamen took it to the swarthy Brendan Tighe. Then things got hot. Brendan Willem went to work on his power game before finding a legit backside barrel and ending it with a hook for an 8.5, the highest wave of the day to that point.
With the tide coming in and the sultry swell sticking around, Simon Hetrick went to town against Clay Pollioni, putting up an 8.67. But Pollioni caught a wave in the final seconds for a shapely backside tube of his own, earning a 9.75 and MVP for his team.
“I almost wrote myself off before the five-minute mark, and then that wave came. It just felt awesome,” said Pollioni.
Long Branch’s Mike Gleason extended Team Gesler’s lead by finding a couple of attractive tubes, ending them with handsome full rail frontside carves before Rob Kelly smoothed another point for Team Hammer.
In a fitting showdown, Hammer and Gesler met to settle a 20-year rivalry. And once again, Hammer won the heat but Gesler won the war. With the bag all sewn up, Ben Graeff came out ripping and added one more point for Team Gesler. Each member of the squad took home a cool $1,000 with Pollioni pocketing an extra $1000 and a Traeger grill.
It all came off looking like a the perfect New Jersey winter day. And it was gorgeous.
2017 Cold war Results:
MVP: Clay Pollioni, $1,000
Winner: Team Gesler, $1,000 each
- Travis Beckmann
- Mike Gleason
- Andrew Gesler
- Rob Kelly
- Ben Mc Brien
- Clay Pollioni
- Brendan Tighe
- Randy Townsend