By Casey Butler
The buoys predicted flatness, but at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, tiny waves were breaking on the beach just south of Casino Pier. One foot at 11 seconds. Light offshore winds. It actually looked like a typical summer morning in Seaside Heights, NJ.
The waves were so small that Contest Director Darren Brilhart was unsure whether to hold the Oakley Surf Shop Challenge at all. Casino Pier was to host the Northeast regional competition. If it didn't run today, there would be no one representing the Northeast in the National Championships come September.
This group wanted representation in California. The 32 competitors stood around sleepily, fortifying themselves with jelly doughnuts and coffee. They didn't get out of bed this morning and make the drive for nothing. The important thing was that the ocean, which hovered just below 50 degrees, didn't look like the Barnegat Bay. Bob Marley was playing on the loudspeakers, so, everything was going to be just fine.
At 7:45 the waves, beyond all reason and expectation, began to pick up. "They're getting better by the minute," said someone near the judges' tent. "They're World Tour quality," joked someone else.
The overall mood was playful. Competitive, yes, but fun. Kids sat in the rigging of the closed-off pier with their feet dangling over the edge, watching their fellow competitors. A few less adventurous spectators gathered on the beach. People were getting sunglasses tans and T-shirt burns. There were Jersey Shore cracks. "This beats the hell out of going to school," said one surfer. It was a fine day to play hooky.
At the competitors' meeting, Brilhart explained the ground rules and that the eight teams would be split into two heats.
For the OSSC, it is of the utmost importance to understand what "whammy" means. Each team designates a "whammy" surfer, who is usually their strongest surfer. He has the option to whammy one of his three waves (whichever he thinks is the best score, because it's going to count twice). The catch is that he has to make the call immediately after the ride, so there's the ever-present risk of choosing unwisely. The "whammy" factors heavily into team strategy, and can determine a win.
The first heat began just about on-schedule, at 8:36 a.m. Chris Kretzer from Farias Surf Shop in Ship Bottom, NJ, took the first wave of the day. Rob and Chris Kelly and Sean Santiago put in solid performances for 7th Street Surf Shop in Ocean City, NJ. Zack Humphreys and Andrew Gesler from Heritage in Sea Isle City, NJ, matched Rob Kelly's airs with quality floaters, and in the end, the two-time regional champs barely bested Team 7th Street.
In heat two, Bare Wires Surf and Skate's first surfer, Clay Pollioni, scored a couple of nice rides for the Long Branch, NJ, team and tagged out. Later, PJ Raia snapped his way to another high-scoring wave for Bare Wires. At the end of the heat, Pat Fallon of Special Sauce (Bayshore, NY) scored the biggest wave of the day, which was, freakishly, chest-high.
Heritage, 7th Street, Inlet Outlet (Manasquan, N.J.), and Bare Wires advanced to the final. The scores were swept clean and the four shops went at it. The rankings shifted with each ride until Gesler whammied his first and only wave of the final, an 8.17. Brilhart made the unofficial announcement: with 13 minutes remaining in the final, Heritage won its third consecutive Northeast title.
Team Captain Gesler explained that their strategy has been successful for the past couple of years, so it's pretty much set. Ian Bloch said the team tries to give Gesler as much time as possible to score big and whammy. "I think patience played a huge role for us today," said Moran.
The Heritage guys are psyched for the Nationals in September, especially now that another East Coast team will be joining them. They expect their past rivalries with shops to the south will pump up the competition. Catch the Mid-Atlantic Regionals later this week in Kitty Hawk, N.C.
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1. Heritage (Jamie Moran, Zack Humphreys, Andrew Gesler*, Ian Bloch)
2. 7th Street (Brian Williams, Rob Kelly*, Chris Kelly, Sean Santiago)
3. Inlet Outlet (Corey Frank, Terence Doll, Pat Schmidt*, Justin Taylor)
4. Bare Wires (Clay Pollioni, Tommy Ihnken, Tyler Thompson, PJ Raia*)
* = Whammy surfer