excellent observation,Matt,you described the cape may thing perfectly,except i don't think it's only on big swells,there's some times it turns on a bit during less powerful swells,but as you stated you have to get it right at that moment,it pops up out of nowhere,a couple hours,then disappears again
Cape May has Gained alot more sand in the past few years. The Shallower the water the more swell it takes to build a sizeable wave. I remeber at hightide at broadway during the Ne swell we had in November the water was about chest high maybe a bit less by the rock pile. Also so if you wait too long most of the beaches in Cape May can not handle all the water and it tends to disorganize things a bit. But this is where local knowledge comes into play
I remeber when a good Nor'eastern would blow threw and the water would be packed with surfers from all over the Tri state area.
I'm an old dude now, so how about this... I grew up in CM (LCMR class of '81) and I remember when the Cove had no beach. Guys used to fish off the rocks right there from the parking lot. Broadway worked, and Stegers worked, but Stockton was the most consistent break at the time on small to medium swells. Big swells it was Poverty... the only spot that could hold a big hurricane swell or big Nor' Easter. But it was a lot of fun jumping off the railing behind Convention Hall, into the Backyard. The cops would come and throw us out of there, but we always got a few good jumps in. There was a good break there, too, and you could sometimes ride waves right under Convention Hall. The runoff pipe at Queen Street was the source of the worst staph infection I ever had... nasty dirty filthy water, maybe even raw sewage at the time, came out of that thing. Trenton and Philly would get you away from the crowd, but the water came right up to the rocks at high tide at Trenton (as it did at Stockton, too), so the backwash got pretty interesting sometimes. Great memories as a grom watching the hippies come out for a surf when it was good... long crazy hair, duct tape hanging off their boards, stoned as hell... and just ripping. As a kid I worked at the top of the Golden Eagle as a busboy... I remember watching it all day during a Nor' Easter from that great view, watching the waves crash over the rocks and flood the street... wishing I didn't have to work.