High winds and looming rains forced the Coast Guard to suspend a search for 20-year-old Pardip Singh of Carteret around midday. State police hope to resume searching for Singh by boat if conditions improve later Friday, Sgt. Stephen Jones said.
Singh entered the ocean Thursday night with a group of people in Belmar but did not emerge. His disappearance came on the same day that authorities recovered the body of 23-year-old Franky Lezin of Asbury Park, who drowned after entering the roiling waters Tuesday.
Rain along the coastline eased by midday Friday as Earl weakened to a Category 1 storm likely to miss the shores of New Jersey by 150 to 200 miles. As of 2:30 p.m., the hurricane was located about 170 miles southeast of Atlantic City on a path projected to keep it well offshore.
A tropical storm watch for Sandy Hook had also been downgraded to a storm watch.
The storm was still delighting New Jersey surfers with huge waves, but officials continued to caution swimmers and surfers about strong rip tides and rough surf.
Undaunted, surfers descended on New Jersey beaches for a chance to take on the towering waves generated by the storm.
Rob Rae of Boston has spent the past few days chasing swells down the East Coast. He landed on Manasquan on Friday morning and declared the surf to be excellent.
"People are taking them all the way onto the beach," said the 25-year-old Rae, who spent Thursday surfing in Rhode Island.
"When the storms come up the coast, it generates all these incredible waves. That's the best," he said.
But the waves, as good as they were, were too much for 27-year-old Bruno Sassoon. The Freehold, N.J., resident rode two sets of waves Friday before calling it quits, scared off by a ferocious rip current.
"As soon as we got out there, we got sucked straight out. It's a really bad rip, a lot rougher than yesterday," Sassoon said.
"The sets (of waves) are coming one after another," he added. "You have to have some real stamina to stay with them."
Hurricane Earl was forecast to pass at least 150 miles off the state's coast Friday but hit close to Long Island, N.Y., and Cape Cod and Nantucket in Massachusetts.
The storm was expected to bring a half-inch of rain to the New Jersey shoreline and winds of 30 to 35 mph, with gusts up to 45 mph.
Beaches in many Jersey shore communities have been restricted or closed to swimmers altogether since last weekend because of rough surf and punishing high waves generated by Hurricane Danielle and then by Earl's approach.
It's been nearly 200 years since a hurricane scored a direct hit on New Jersey. A powerful storm hit near Atlantic City in 1903, but winds had dissipated to tropical storm level - about 47 mph - when it came ashore.
Before that, a Category 3 hurricane hit Cape May Point in 1821.
Earl is expected to be done with New Jersey by Saturday morning, but its remnants will linger and make swimming risky, said Nick Morici, a spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Management.
"Saturday is actually going to be a pretty nice day, but the surf is still going to be rough and the rip currents are still going to be strong," he said.