With a heat index hovering around 106 degrees all weekend at Wrightsville Beach, and a high pressure system sitting off the North Carolina coast, there was much more sweat to be seen at the 9th Annual East Coast Wahine Championship, presented by Billabong, than swell. But even the feeble surf conditions and the sweltering summer temperatures weren't enough to extinguish the competitive spirits of over 170 female surfers ready to get er' done in the dirty south.
A frail, knee high ground swell showed up around 9:30 Saturday morning; providing just enough surf for contest officials to give the event the green light, and after an almost two hour postponement, the wahines hit the water. Over a dozen different divisions groveled in the dismal conditions, but with money on the line, it was the Pro Longboard and Pro Shortboard divisions which had head judge, Daniel Sacchi, scrambling to set a standard criterion for his crew.
"We're looking for any little thing that one person might do to stand out," explained Sacchi. "A lot of people are just going straight to the beach, so that one person who tries to maneuver their board just a little bit is going to get a little bit better score."
As competitors scavenged the line up for set waves and spectators were scorched by the Sahara-like conditions, judges struggled to discern who would advance through heats, and who would have to watch from the blistering sidelines. But even as the conditions continued to make the scoring almost completely indeterminable, contest officials, and competitors alike, all seemed to be smiling.
"Every one is still having a good time," said event director, Anne Beasley, who has been involved in the competition for the past eight years. "The contest has grown exponentially. I've watched a lot of these girls grow up. You know, the level of women's surfing has increased so dramatically, and that's what this event is for – to showcase that."
For assistant director, Paula Bushardt, who has been surfing since 1965, the contest has become a vehicle for camaraderie and cohesion among female surfers.
"This contest has brought everyone together, Bushardt said. "In the old days you'd paddle out and you'd almost never see another girl out. Now you paddle out and you always see somebody you know, and that's really nice."
While an aloha spirit seemed to keep competitors content with the disappointing conditions, a few stand out east coast pro division females wouldn't be content until they groveled their way into the finals. In the running from the onset, reigning champ, Kelly Nicely, advanced through heat after heat in both the pro longboard and shortboard divisions. Having won both pro divisions for the past two years, 27-year-old Nicely had all intentions of making her winning streak a hat trick, but young Connie Arias, Billabong's poster child, fresh off the bus from Melbourne Beach, FL, had plans of her own.
When asked out about how the competition stacked up, Arias admitted, "I worry about Kelly Nicely." But as the contest unraveled, Arias's "just catch two good ones" approach proved to be too much for Nicely in the pro shortbaord division.
The pro longboard division was a different story, however, and Kelly Nicely remained dominate for yet another year, taking out Arias, and the rest of the competition.
But the competitive spirit of the event was over shadowed by the ever present aloha spirit on the beach, and by most accounts, the most important thing on the line was having a good time.
"It's fun, all my friends are here, and everyone can come here and just have a good time," added Nicely. Her statement seems to be the general sentiment behind the spirit of the event, and with a full guppies division again this year, it doesn't look like the talent pool at the East Coast Wahine Championships will be drying up any time soon.
1. Kelly Nicely
2. Mimi Monro
3. Erin Whittle
4. Lauren Hill
1. Connie Arias
2. Kelly Nicely
3. Christa Alves
4. Ainslee Wallace