MAYBE you’ve heard about the women who’ve been — no pun intended — making waves in the surfing world. Layne Beachley — also, no pun intended — has won seven world championships. It was Keala Kennelly who charged a 25-foot wave for the win in the world’s first big wave contest for women. And Steph Gilmore —who once signed an autograph for your star-struck reporter — was inducted into the Australian Hall of Fame this year. But there’s one woman you won’t find on ESPN who’s also paving the way for future generations of female surfers, and in our own backyard.
We caught up with mother, world traveler and Cape May local Coleen Carusi McCoy about the female-only surf clinics she pioneered in the area for the first time last year, and why waves are a passion worth having.
“I was hooked on beach living from the get-go,” Coleen said. “I started out lifeguarding at local pools, and then progressed to guarding at Diamond Beach, and that’s how my interest got peaked in all things ocean.” After graduating from high school at 17, Coleen took a surf lesson with the newly-formed Atlantic Surfers Organization and, by the time she completed college, she was ready to move to Maui, where Time Bomb Surfboards sponsored her to ride.
But it wasn’t until Coleen relocated to Sayulita, Mexico that her career took off. Every winter season she she was flown down to work as surf instructor (and tour guide, translator, and medic) for Las Olas Surf Safari — a camp by women, for women — before advancing to head instructor in just seven years.
“Up until this point,” Coleen said, “all of my surf idols were men. But the girls I worked with at the camp were amazing waterwomen, hailing from Australia, Mexico, and other parts of South America. That’s when it really clicked for me. These women were tough, and making a living out of their passion for the ocean.”
Beginning in 1988, during summers spent on American soil, Coleen began working at Ocean Outfitters in Wildwood Crest. That same year, under the direction of longtime Merion Inn server Dean Lyon, the shop began offering all-age surf camps for both guys and girls, a program that was wonderfully received. “But for some reason,” Colleen said, “for some of the women who have always wanted to try the sport, the intimidation factor is still there. Not so much for the younger, 12-year-old set, who seem to jump right in, but for girls 18 and over. Women are more cautious by nature, which is a gift, but also at times a fault. A woman is more likely to look before she leaps.”
So, in an attempt to help the girls of Cape May County go ahead and leap, Coleen spearheaded her women-only surf camp through Ocean Outfitters last year. She was met with ringing endorsements by icons like Kristy Murphy, a former Las Olas colleague and Longboarding Champion of the World, who posted online that Coleen in the only instructor she’d take a lesson from in New Jersey.
Which is, perhaps, not only because Coleen has the experience (she’s even assisted Endless Summer star Robert “Wingnut” Weaver in his surf school), but because Colleen gets it… she understands the challenges facing females in the sport. “A lot of people have this concept in their mind of surfer girls as Roxy models,” she said. “For a while, I was trying to live up to that. But then I became friends strong women who charge some of the world’s heaviest waves, and let me tell you… none of them come close to a Roxy model image. I’ll do what I can to dispel that misconception, that surfing is only for tan 16-year-olds who are a size two.”
Rather, Coleen says, surfing is for any woman who wants to connect with the natural world (“To feel that sense of vast open water is worth the experience right there,” she told us), and, also, anyone who wants to feel just a little bit more alive.
“I’ll never forget the day I was teaching in Mexico, where there are many dangers to contend with in the water — reef beds, poison fish, and large rocks that are difficult to see,” Coleen said. “I was explaining to a woman from Illinois that she needed to do the turtle roll maneuver, or she was going to get swept back over the rock reef by huge waves. She didn’t understand the importance of this, and she hurt her leg. While we were getting her to the clinic, so that she could get stitches, all she could say is, ‘When can I get back in the water?’”
But that’s one of the greatest things about surfing… it teaches you to get back up again. “You learn to keep going when you take a beating,” Coleen said, “to not panic when you get in a jam. I was in labor with my first son, telling myself to just keep paddling. As cliché as it sounds, surfing is the ultimate life lesson.”
The all-women clinics, which will incorporate nutrition education, will take place on Sundays this summer, for two hours at a time, and will be geared toward women 18 and older. “I don’t want more mature women to think they’ll be getting in the water with young kids,” Coleen said. The clinic will also accommodate events, such as bachelorette parties or corporate retreats. Look for the first one on Mother’s Day, especially if you’re still in need of a cool gift for the water-loving matriarch of the family.
And don’t worry… there won’t be any rock reefs or poison fish to contend with during your lesson, which will be taught in the forgiving break of Wildwood’s Rambler Road beach. (Coleen, who gave up teaching in Mexico after getting married — to a man who agreed to always live near a beach in his wedding vows — has even had Axel and Leo (her three- and two-year-old sons, respectively) safely out on boards here.)
What you can expect is an encouraging environment. “I’ve never seen a lesson of girls go badly,” Coleen said. “There’s zero competition. It’s all ‘Go, Becky, Go,’ and the support is fantastic.”
For more information, contact Ocean Outfitters at 609-729-7400, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. “The ocean is exercise, recreation, and therapy,” Coleen said. “What else do you need?”
MARTY Santry, the Washington Inn’s affable, 60-year-old bartender, doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about himself, so despite the great deal of people he meets on a given night, not many Cape Islanders know much about him. “That’s okay with me,” he told us. “I’m there to do a job. When I’m at work, it’s more about the customers.” More about the customers, and less about Marty’s affinity for horseshoe crabs, or his adorable two-month-old grandson named Elliot, or the joy he finds in sitting in the backyard with good friends and a bottle of wine after a long day on the beach. And, definitely, more about the customers than the artwork Marty spends so much of his time creating.
But on May 3, Marty won’t be able to avoid the spotlight, because the bartender will be one of two artists featured at Sunset Hill Fine Arts Gallery in West Chester, Pennsylvania, as part of the show called “Land and Sea”. “I’ve always loved painting,” Marty said. “It’s a form of expression and meditation.” But, here again, Marty is too humble to tell the whole story; in his case, painting isn’t just a pleasurable hobby… it’s a serious talent. We know this because, in his West Cape May home, we got a sneak peak of Marty’s work, which we discussed over biscotti, tea, and pictures of Elliot.
“The first artist I really saw was Van Gogh at the Philadelphia Museum of Art,” Marty said, as his cat — a female called Freddie — rubbed against his chair. “My mother’s friend took me, and I was totally overwhelmed. Even though I didn’t really understand the art, it blew me away. I still remember the way the Van Gogh banners looked as I made my way up the steps.”
And that’s saying something, because Marty has had a great deal of life experiences worth remembering… like herding goats in the Mediterranean, for instance. “I have lived a lot of places,” he said. “California, England, St. Croix… but I have to say my most memorable travel experience happened in Crete. I was 22, and I was hiking a huge gorge with my brother. On the way back, we discovered this wonderful, rugged little port where we ended up staying with a family for a month. There was no electricity and no running water, but we were surrounded by antiquity — a 2nd-century Christian church and a medieval Turkish castle. We helped the family out, herding their animals, and tourists took our picture, thinking we were native to the area. It was such a wonderful time.”
For his artwork, Marty draws inspiration from these travels, but also from the natural world around him, like when he works plein aire by the dunes by the lighthouse, or when he recreates a plant in his own backyard. “I started painting that last spring,” he said, pointing to a pear tree on the lawn. “And I’ve been waiting all winter for it to finish blooming so I can complete it. I just have 10 more hours of work to go.”
Some of Marty’s other pieces depict New York models. Others, like the one of horseshoe crabs that incorporates neon light and hangs in Lucky Bones restaurant, depict sea life. Still others depict nothing at all, like the “string paintings” which are not representational but, rather, convey only movement and color. The pieces even range in size, from two to seven feet long. So what’s the common thread? “I just think they’re happy, joyous paintings,” Marty said. “And I hope people feel good when they see them.”
If history is any indication, there’s a fair chance this will be the case. For the last 10 years, Marty — who has organized shows for the African American Museum in Philadelphia, and whose been asked to put on shows by such big name firms as Philadelphia’s Tigue Lighting —has done only commission work. One family flew him to California so that he could paint a portrait of their daughter, as well as the landscapes there. “They became interested after buying a painting I did of the black-eyed Susan plant,” he said. “The woman’s name was Susan, thank God.”
As for how this latest show came about? Sunset Hill owner Sandra Riper, who spends much time in Cape May, has been a longtime customer of Marty’s; one day, his art finally came up — reluctantly, no doubt — in conversation. “That was about a year ago,” Marty said. “Sandra asked to see my work, and I’ve been preparing for this show ever since. I don’t feel nervous; I feel ready, and so happy to be able to do this.”
“Land and Sea” will run from May 3 to May 24, with an opening reception on May 3 from 5-9pm. For directions or more info on Marty or Peter Quarracino, the other featured artist, visit sunsethillgallery.com.
IT LOOKS like Cape May might finally have some hope of altering the funding formula that determines how much it costs to send students to the Lower Cape May Regional High School District.
Last year, city taxpayers paid $72,000 for each student sent to the regional school district. As a cost comparison, for the same money you could send your kid to Rutgers University or Richard Stockton College, living on campus for $24,000 per year, add on a new car for your student each year, like a 2013 Acura ILX with premium package for $29,200, and top it off with a brand new Bayliner 180 Bowrider 18-foot boat each year for $18,000. At the same time, Lower Township taxpayers were paying the equivalent of $7,753 per pupil.
At the April 16 city council meeting, council member Jack Wichterman said he had some good news in the form of a decision from Administrative Law Judge Leslie Celantano in Bergen County in a school funding formula case between the towns of Oradell and River Edge. The case was handled by Vito Gagliardi, an attorney specializing in changing school funding formulas who was hired by Cape May last December with $48,000 budgeted over the next two years for his services. “Although their problem is not as severe as ours, the judge agreed entirely with what they asked for,” said Wichterman, adding that they were not paying anywhere near as much as Cape May.
“To me, it shows what’s going on now in New Jersey, the courts are waking up,” said Wichterman, who is very optimistic about Cape May’s prospects for change in the funding formula following the court decision. Gagliardi is expected to visit council in May. He has been preparing a feasibility study on how to change the regional school funding formula.
City Solicitor Tony Monzo said Oradell petitioned the state Commissioner of Education for reapportionment on the heels of a case in North Haledon which gave courts the authority to review and come up with a more equitable funding formula. He said Judge Celantano provided a recommendation to the commissioner of education that neither a per pupil or a per property assessment formula was equitable for Oradell. “The more equitable solution in this case was 80 percent pupils and 20 percent property values,” said Monzo. Celanto recommended the new formula be phased in over two years.
The commissioner of education can accept, reject or modify the decision of the administrative law judge. The commissioner’s decision can be appealed in the Appellate Division of Superior Court for further review.
Monzo said the disparity in the school funding formula of Oradell and River Edge was not nearly as bad as that of Cape May and Lower Township. He said there was a difference of cost per pupil of $19,000 for Oradell versus $13,200 per pupil for River Edge. “This is the third case where towns that are really getting hit hard are getting relief,” said Wichterman. “Number one was North Haledon, then Seaside Park and now Oradell and I’m hoping we’re going to be number four.” The City of North Haledon has saved over $4 million.
Gagliardi was hired as consultant to Cape May in 2005. At that time he recommended a voter referendum on the regional school funding formula but it did not come to fruition when the West Cape May Board of Commissioners and West Cape May Board of Education voted no.
Deputy Mayor Bill Murray said the funding formula would never be changed “politically” because of the size of districts and the difficulty for legislators to try to convince a municipality to allow their taxes to be increased because the school funding formula is unfair.