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Piles of debris are getting smaller. The National Guard is no longer occupying Ortley Beach. And the news cameras have turned to the next catastrophe.
It's now been a full two months since Superstorm Sandy put her head down and barreled right into New Jersey. Aside from Route 35, which was flooded again this week by a coastal low pressure system, and the blocks of homes in Breezy Point that burned to the ground, things might look like they are getting back to normal in this corner of the world.
But they are not.
A closer inspection reveals that there are still thousand of homes in the region that are uninhabitable. The bays, beaches, boardwalks, and marshes are still trashed. Many houses are gutted awaiting insurance money. Others have been condemned. And that means that countless families have been displaced right through December. But the people here, many of whom are surfers are the ones with their hands, are rebuilding their lives.
In these last few weeks, it's been important to honor holiday traditions despite life's lack of normalcy. And one of the greatest traditions at the New Jersey Shore is the Bouncing Souls Home for the Holidays, four shows in four nights with different opening bands at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Somehow, this legendary venue stayed in one piece during the 100-year-storm.
|Sam Hammer has not only been at the forefront of the Waves for Water Sandy relief effort, he charged harder than anyone in the last few heavy Jersey swells.|
Every year, Home for the Holidays seems to coincide with a solid south swell. The sixth annual was no exception, as succession of powerful storms sent serious surf to the coast's haggard shoreline. You can bet that a good number of those singing along to "Gone" were the ones duckdiving cold bombs last week.
After migrating from New Brunswick to the Lower East Side, several members of the band now call the beach towns around Asbury Park home, reaffirming their Jersey pride. Each year they hold fundraisers in conjunction with the shows. This December, it was a no-brainer that they should gather up some cash for local Sandy victims. That's where Stay Strong Jersey, the 501c3 headed up by old friends of the Bouncing Souls came in. This punk-run non-profit has already raised $25,000 in benefit t-shirts and posters with the Jersey-based Gaslight Anthem.
"My house was good, so I feel like we dodged a bullet," said Souls' bassist, Bryan Kienlen, also a tattoo artist, who took part in a Hurricane Sandy benefit at Neptune Tattoo last week.
"But it's been absolutely heartbreaking. I don't even think I understood the scope of it. It wasn't until we were actually at the shows, talking to so many of our longtime friends, that we really learned how many people that we know had really lost everything."
And while selling merch is a nice idea, it was Matt O'Brien, co-owner of Dogwig Printing, original Souls roadie, and Stay Strong Jersey board member, who conjured up the "Dunk the Punk" idea of a dunking booth.
|Longtime friend of the Souls and original roadie, Matt O'Brien of Dogwig Printing conjured up the "Dunk the Punk" dunk tank idea despite the frigid weather.|
"I thought it would be a good idea to give people something to do as opposed to something else to buy. They're still making a donation, but you let people pay to throw things," explained O'Brien who charged $1 per throw, "and keeping it a low dollar thing kept it accessible to all manner of people.
This booth was set up behind the Stone Pony. And as you might imagine on a late December night in New Jersey, it's kind of cold.
The first night of Home for the Holidays, the dunk tank had to be abandoned as the second of two storms lashed the Pony with rain and near Hurricane force winds. The next day bought a swell of historic proportions. By the second night, while Born Annoying, Trapped Under Ice, and Man Overboard warmed up the crowd, O'Brien hopped up and allowed the Souls' crowd to whip softballs at the target, occasionally taking the icy plunge.
"We have great friends who came up with these fundraisers around the show and just ran with them. Everyone who got dunked in the tank is just so committed. It was so cold out there. It was crazy," laughed Kienlen.
For the next two nights, O'Brien was able to wrangle friends of the band, his own wife, his partner at Dogwig, and this reporter into the tank. As you can imagine, the goading and trash talk could be heard even over the Casualties set. The final night, the air dipped down to 30 degrees.
|Hammer was also in attendance at the show and dunked the punk in the tank more than a few times.|
"I wore my 5-mil suit on Thursday night," said O'Brien, "but it's not like surfing. When you surf, you're paddling and moving. This was just brutal cold."
The "Dunk the Punk," rubbed up an easy $1,200 and t-shirt sales contributed another $600 that is going to Waves For Water, the surf-led non-profit that has been on the ground in New York and New Jersey, seeing recovery through to completion. Wave for Water founder, Jon Rose, who has been in New Jersey and New York since the storm, was in attendance and well amused by the punk rock antics.
The Souls also hosted walking tours, afterparties and film premiers in conjunction with the shows, donating more than $5,000 to the relief effort.
"It's called 'Home for the Holidays,' and this is our home," said longtime manager, Kate Hiltz, of Asbury Park. "We couldn't just throw the party of the year knowing that so many people are in need. Everything we did this year is to rebuild this shore that we love so much."