Living steps from the sands in Normandy Beach, New Jersey, is truly amazing. Beautiful crimson sunrises over the Atlantic invite consummate peace and start the day off right. Silent solace and internal happiness exist only steps away at the lapping surf, where fishing for striped bass, bluefish or weakfish is a daily, soulful endeavor.
On Oct. 28, 2012, the legendary fall run of striped bass was thick along the Jersey shore, and this time, I was more excited than ever to take full advantage. In 2011 I’d missed the opportunity since I was in Winter Park, Florida, employed as managing editor of Salt Water Sportsman. This year’s fall fishing was going to be special; I had been looking forward to it with passion. While sipping on a hot apple cider spiked with Captain Morgan, I prepped for a surf striper session by rigging all of my gear and filling my pack with anything and everything I might need. All the while, a storm called Sandy was on her way, with predictions of a possible direct hit on New Jersey. That evening, police officers interrupted my prepping routine by knocking on my door and instructing me that, if I defied the mandatory evacuation order and were to stay, I needed to write my Social Security number in permanent marker on my wrist.
As I write this, it’s been 29 days since my world turned upside down.
Plain and simple, everything I’ve ever called my own is gone. My home is no more. All of the fishing rods, reels, gear, coolers, waders, etc. that I’ve accumulated over the years — gone. As a full-time sport-fishing writer and photographer, my entire cache of 25,000 prints, slides and digital images as well as writings, hard drives and backup drives, and 15 years of collections of books, artwork and memories, were all swept out to sea or burned to ash. I’ve weathered hurricanes and nor’easters before, and expected flooding — maybe two to four feet of water in the house. That’s not what happened at all. Sandy’s 36-hour assault, peaking with a ripping, rushing five-hour, eight-foot tsunami surge combined with a three-story flaming hell-storm fueled by 90-knot winds and broken, free-flowing natural gas lines, obliterated my neighborhood, wiping my house along with 90 others off the map.
Seaside Heights, New Jersey: This famed Jersey shore was one of the hardest areas hit by Sandy — the storm left many parts unrecognizable.
Nothing could prepare me for this.
Sandy’s sucker punch didn’t just destroy millionaires’ and celebrities’ oceanfront summertime play mansions, but she consumed our local lifestyle on the barrier island. As year-rounders, we didn’t lose our summer getaway homes; we lost our lives, our livelihoods and our community. The ability to cast a line into the surf should never be taken for granted. What was an everyday endeavor for me is now regulated by fatigue-wearing National Guard troops armed with assault rifles. It’s a war zone. Never before in Jersey’s history has a 30-mile stretch of beach been shut down indefinitely, probably for a half-year to a year or even longer. The complete makeup of Jersey’s coast will forevermore be changed. Three new inlets cut through the land, some already filled in and walled off by bulkheads, while owners of marinas, tackle shops and charter boats, some hit harder than others, will have to make the decision to rebuild or cash it in.
In all this mayhem, there is a shining light. The spirit of my friends, neighbors and family who have lost it all is unusually resilient and optimistically strong. Tackle shop proprietors, charter boat owners, fishing buddies and captains are all more determined than ever to get back to the business of pursuing our passion to fish — to rebuild and replenish what has been lost, and to make it stronger than ever. Trying times like these bring about despair, sadness and pessimism, for sure, but more importantly, they conjure up thoughts and feelings of faith, passion and optimism, at least for me. Tomorrow I will be borrowing a rod and reel, dressing up in the only two flannel shirts and pair of jeans I have to my name, and heading out of Barnegat Inlet on a friend’s boat in search of striped bass. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate life. And every day from now on, I will be borrowing rods, reels and tackle until, day by day, bit by bit, I rebuild my life and my fishing arsenal, guided by my passion, spirit and love for such a noble pursuit.
Nothing can stop me, not even you, Sandy.