NJ-based anglers OK after hurricane

Across the country, many of us are still reeling from the news of the destruction that Hurricane Sandy left in her path as she ripped her way up the East Coast earlier this week. As someone who is proud to call New Jersey home, I see pictures of the shore areas and tears come to my eyes.

I think about my first visit to the Seaside Heights boardwalk when I was about 8 years old. My cousin Brian and I ran up from the beach into one of the air-conditioned arcades, looking for some video games to play. There, standing ominously in front of us, was the fortuneteller machine known as “Zoltar,” made famous in the movie Big starring Tom Hanks. I can’t remember now what the card said when it came down from the slot, after watching my money disappear down the mouth of Zoltar’s shaking head, but I held onto that card for years as a souvenir from my first trip to the boardwalk.

Luckily it wasn’t my last trip. Years later, my family moved to the Jersey Shore where I ended up working on the boardwalk during the summers. Most people these days think of the MTV show when they think of the Jersey Shore – drunken kids getting into fights in nightclubs, going tanning and getting into trouble. I know that the Jersey Shore is much, much more. It’s the place where my friends and I earned money for college – as lifeguards and salt water taffy sellers. It’s a place where families go on vacation each summer, and have for generations. It’s a place where businesses are built – many that were washed away in the hurricane this week. It’s a place where people finally see their dream beach house go up, after years of saving.

Power is still out in much of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and beyond. People are scraping by with what they can. But we’re also focused now on the memories that these places have given us, places that are now under water or sand, or simply blown away.

Bassmaster’s own Michael Iaconelli, whose family fared fine during the storm, said he and his family have vacationed at the shore for years. “For the people in the Northeast, the Jersey Shore is a staple,” Iaconelli said from his home in Pittsgrove, N.J., Thursday. “It was really hit hard.”

Iaconelli and his wife, Becky, and his four children Rylie, Drew, Vegas and Estella are all doing well. They lost power for about 15 hours but had no significant damage to their home, besides a few trees down in their backyard. “We’re doing OK compared to a lot of folks in this area,” the Elite Series pro said. He described the storm as it came over Atlantic City, N.J. – located about 40 minutes east of Pittsgrove. “There was a moment of calm when the eye passed us, which was a really eerie thing,” he said. “I think that [the eye] was the saving grace for us.”

He said hearing about the damage at the shore is sad. “They are icons from growing up,” he said. “The boardwalk, the bays where we fish.”

Antonio “Go Go” Gomez, who competed in last weekend’s B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship in Decatur, Ala., made it home to Paterson, N.J., just prior to Hurricane Sandy’s arrival. He lost power at his home on Monday and is still going without. He is hoping the power will be back on by this Sunday.

“We didn’t believe it was going to be as bad as it was,” Gomez said. Luckily he has a gas stove and oven, so he is still able to cook meals with his girlfriend, and his daughter and two grandchildren have power back at their house. The real challenge is getting fuel. “The line is like an hour or two just to get gas,” Gomez said. “But I leave it in the Lord’s hands; it could’ve been worse.”

Like myself and Iaconelli, Gomez also carries memories of the Jersey Shore – vacationing in places like Point Pleasant or Seaside Heights. “It’s devastating, it hurts,” he said. “We always say, ‘Let’s go down the shore, Seaside Heights.’ Now, who knows how long it will take to recover that, the boardwalk, the sand, not to mention the people who are still under water.”

If you would like to help the people affected by Hurricane Sandy, please visit the Red Cross website for information: www.redcross.org.

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