Of course, throwing one of the biggest—if not the biggest—parties Long Beach has ever seen while simultaneously rooting for hurricane-force waves is inherently risky business. Mother Nature can very well play nice, too rough, or take her surfboard and go home.
The decision to call off the competition because of bad weather will go through the same channels as would an order to evacuate the barrier islands days in advance of any hurricane. This time, admittedly, it’s more complicated because strong offshore winds can actually improve surfing conditions.
“What we hope for are waves without destruction, waves without erosion, and waves without incident,” Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano tells the Press. He laughs that he’s been brushing up on his surf lingo, but says he doesn’t want to make light of the potential threat to the public if the weather turns bad.
South Shore residents in the flood plains are always at risk of storm surge damage, which could hamper evacuation efforts when the big one comes.
“Our job is to be prepared and respond,” he says.
Long Beach Police Inspector Jack Radin understands the appeal of a big wave. A surfer himself, he says the biggest wave he’s ever caught was a 12-footer in Barbados. But he won’t be hitting the boards anytime soon; he’ll be on the job, maintaining constant contact with the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service, among his many duties.
“If they tell us that they anticipate some severe weather coming in,” says Radin, who is also the liaison between Long Beach and the county’s Office of Emergency Management, “we’re going to take appropriate action to protect the people that are here… We’re not going to compromise public safety for an event.”
It’s a balancing act seemingly as tricky as standing on a board and cutting a line across a breaker. Those familiar with the sometimes otherworldly politics of Long Beach are amazed to see an event of this scale having been green-lighted.
“I guess it’s really a very different Long Beach than it was a generation ago,” says former Long Beach City Manager Bruce Nyman, a Democrat who admitted that he’s “relieved” that Republican Charles Theofan holds that post today.
“I can’t imagine an event like this being held 25 years ago because Long Beach has changed… It’s not the old, sleepy bedroom community that we had when I was a kid.” He remembers talk in the ’80s of closing the beaches to outside visitors, and how the city had canceled July Fourth fireworks for many years.
But that was then. “Our morale is a lot higher than the rest of the Island,” he muses. “This is something, believe it or not, that most people are looking forward to… It’s kind of a prideful thing for most people… They want to show off their beautiful beach and their terrific community… It’s the coming out party for Long Beach.”
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