Kiernan Rekindle Hallowed Ground
cmccoyphotography.zenfolio.com/p950335772 Photos of the Event
Wow, last Saturday was a day to remember for everyone who attended the Kiernan Rekindled event. Special thanks to the KSA Steering Committee for coming up with the plan and then working with the authorities to make it happen. It was unforgettable.
We are also extremely grateful to John Oswald of the Asbury Park Press for spending his entire afternoon with us and putting together a great article which can be found in today's Press. I have copied and inserted the pictures and words from the piece, but if you want to view the digital version, here is the link:
Here is what John wrote:
Surfers celebrate sacred Jersey spot
So maybe the ponytails have gone gray and the sunscreen now goes on the top of the head. None of these changes seemed to bother the 50 or so veteran surfers who gathered in Long Branch last Saturday.
In fact, when this group first got together, sunscreen didn't exist.
What, you may ask, is a story about surfers doing in the fishing section? The reunion was brought to my attention by Ted Geiser, the great-nephew of the Asbury Park Press’ celebrated outdoor writer, John Geiser.
That seemed like reason enough. Plus, both pursuits draw passionate, almost maniacal followers and the ocean is a key ingredient.
The gathering was the 50th reunion for former members of the Kiernan Surfing Association, a short-lived but pivotal group of Jersey Shore surfers.
“We were just a bunch of kids with surfboards that nobody wanted on their beach.” Geiser, one of the founding members of the association said. And they found a beach that no one had a use for.
Geiser, who now lives in Port St. Lucie, Florida, joined local member Ted Brantly in organizing the reunion.
Back then, surfers in Monmouth County were an unwelcome lot. Shore towns and beach club owners, wary of an emerging sport favored by suspicious looking, long-haired risk takers, were afraid of lawsuits. There were only a few places they could go without being chased from the water.
Locals found the spot at the end of Kiernan Boulevard where Seven President’s Oceanfront Park now sits. Pilings driven into the sand that supported a long-gone boardwalk made it unpopular for regular beach goers.
But those same pilings helped hold the sand and contour the bottom while the long jetty provided an ideal break. Kiernan became a favorite among the growing population of Jersey Shore surfers.
It was, however, private property, and one day the Long Branch police came along to move the surfers along and ended up taking Geiser and fellow surfer, Chuck Kunes, back to the station.
Word of their detainment quickly spread to their buddies, and before too long, there was a sizable, but peaceable, crowd in front of the station.
Geiser’s father, who was an attorney, arrived on the scene, and found a solution that satisfied all parties.
“My father worked out a deal with the property owner, George Savoth, who was not against surfing but just didn’t want to get sued,” said Geiser.
The deal was the birth of the Kiernan Surfing Association, where the members cleaned the beach, lifeguarded themselves and their $15 a season membership fee covered the insurance costs. It was one of those grand experiments that actually worked out.
Even I, a bona fide gremmie, knew about Kiernan. It was where the really good guys surfed.
Not only was this a reunion of people, they brought some classic boards. There was a 10-foot, 5-inch Dewey Weber Harold “Iggy” Ige model, a Con Ugly, and some new Challenger boards by Carl “Tinker” West. There were also a couple of Rise Surfboards built by Kiernan member Tom Eadon.
Eadon, along with Gary Germaine, another Kiernan member, were recently inducted into the New Jersey Surfing Hall of Fame, joining Kiernan alumni Vince Troniec, Steve Adeskavitz, Billy Devereaux, and J.J. Jeffrey.
On Saturday, it was like standing on hallowed ground, although years of erosion, beach replenishment and the changing face of Long Branch made it a bit tricky to determine exactly where everything once stood.
A couple of rocks poking through the sand were thought to be the original Kiernan jetty, but it was later determined that they belonged to be the original USO jetty, another popular break just north of Kiernan.
“You old farts have a permit for this,” said former member Dave Grant, as he approached the gathering.
I’m sure they did.
This was a very organized group. Geiser said his mom and another mother handled all the administrative duties such as collecting fees and mailing notices the first year, then the association took over. Badges and patches identified members and surfers under 21 had to have a parent sign up with them.
One of the great things about it, said Geiser, was the range of ages among the members. “There were doctors and lawyers out there surfing with the young guys,” he said. Dr. Lou “Doc” Salmon, 92, an ophthalmologist from Middletown was among those on the beach on Saturday.
“We were mentored by the older guys,” said Vince Troniec of Long Branch. Troniec was about 15 when he started surfing at Kiernan and said guys like Doc Salmon, Big Mike Memi, Walter “Duke” Frattin and Bill Minder taught him and the other young guys the rules of the ocean and how to handle themselves and those were lessons they took through life.
“They helped bring us up, it’s something to be proud of,” he said. Troniec still surfs and gives surfing lessons. He won the Manasquan Classic Longboard Contest in 2014.
Minder played a key role in the the Kiernan story when he opened the Monmouth Beach Surf Shop at about the same time the association came into existence.
The shop became the unofficial headquarters for the surfers on the beaches, giving some of them their first jobs. The shop closed it doors not long after the the beachfront area was sold as part of the Green Acres Preservation program and Kiernan ceased to be in 1972.
But in the interim, it was a golden time for New Jersey surfing. The Monmouth Beach Surf Shop was one of the few dealers for Dewey Weber Surf Boards in the state and it drew elite surfers like Nat Young, Mike Tabeling and Dewey Weber to surf at Kiernan.
Minder and his shop were a magnet for surfers in the area and he sponsored a team that traveled to competitions around the U.S. “If it weren’t for Bill Minder, that whole surfing scene would not have existed,” said Brantly.
One welcome surprise for the folks of the reunion was the appearance of Big Mike Memi, now 88. “Mike would sit well outside of everybody else and wait patiently for the biggest wave of the day,” said Grant.
“He was older than the rest of us and and had long blonde hair and an unmistakable wide stance,” added Gieser. Everybody knew to stay out of his way.
Many of the attendees hadn’t seen each other since they stopped surfing, but the bonds remained. There were a lot of hugs and shared memories of waves gone by.
Geiser said one of things that was so great about the association was that it crossed so many boundaries that kids that would normally not have come into contact with one another, became friends and built lifelong relationships.
Though the 50th reunion was this year, the group is planning a big “Rekindle Kiernan” celebration in time for next year, and hope to have plaque or monument to mark Kiernan’s founding in place by then. The association is reaching out to the Monmouth County Parks Department to make that happen.
It’s certainly deserving. There have been very few association like it, and it’s very doubtful there will ever be one like it again.
John Oswald: joswald@GannettNJ.com