After months of talks the World Surf League and the Eastern Surfing Association have struck a partnership to help clear a path for more East Coast surfers to participate in WSL contests. The fruits of those discussions were on display earlier this month at Sebastian Inlet's Florida Pro (Women's QS 3000 and Men's QS 1500), where eight of the highest ranking ESA surfers were awarded spots in the contest. The partnership with the WSL may signal a new era for the renowned East Coast amateur surfing circuit, which was founded by legends Cecil Lear and Rudy Huber in 1967.
For decades the Eastern Surfing Association was, organizationally speaking, the U.S.'s premier amateur surfing circuit. Even up until the advent of the NSSA's in the early '80s, the ESA's was far and ahead of California's amateur contest organizations, grooming generations of East Coast surfers despite the region's "inferior" waves and helping to establish the Right Coast as a formidable feeder territory for international surf stars.
With the formation of more and more surfing organizations, the path that ESAs once offered to young East Coast upstarts became less-defined in the early aughts. But with Executive Director Michelle Sommers tapping the likes of Cocoa Beach legend Matt Kechele, WSL judge and Virginia Beach-native Dave Portch, and longtime ESA standout Jason Motes to lend strategic and logistical support, the ESA appears to be making inroads towards re-establishing itself as the venerable amateur surfing organization it once was. The group was influential in putting the pieces together for the new partnership with the WSL, which earmark spots in upcoming WSL contests on the East Coast, including this spring's Ron Jon Pro in Cocoa Beach.
Both organizations are still ironing out the specifics. But with a new era in East Coast professional surfing apparently underfoot, we reached out to Motes, who is the ESA All-Star Coach to find out more.
What's this partnership with the WSL mean for the ESA?
So, first of all, WSL is allotting a number of slots in QS contests to the ESA. So, we then pick the surfers to fill those slots from our ranks, and we pay WSL the relevant fees—membership and entry, typically. We started that with the Florida Pro. We got eight slots—four girls, four guys. One of our surfers, Rachel Wilson from Virginia Beach, made it through a couple rounds and she's number 33 in the world rankings now!
So, anything [any WSL event] on the East Coast, we're in. And we're working on a Puerto Rico contest and one in Barbados. Still, we haven't solidified everything. But, this is a huge step in the right direction. The Florida Pro was just the start.
You came up surfing ESA constests. Historically, what has that organization meant to surfers on the East Coast?
My Dad ran ESA North Florida in the late '70s. For us kids over here, it was the only competitive outlet we had. There weren't any other organizations at that time. It was the only avenue for us as surfers who wanted to compete. Surfing was really big back then, too. So ESA was a big thing for us.
And it certainly played a huge role in grooming generations of competitively dominant East Coasters.
Yeah. NSSA was huge for the West Coast. But ESA was bigger back then. Amateur competitive surfing wasn't as saturated as it is today. Now there are a ton of other organizations. But back then if you wanted to compete, if you had the dream of one day making it on the ASP tour, you did ESAs. If you did good you made the All-Star team. If you made the All-Star team, man, you were working with [East Coast Surfing Hall-of-Famer] Kevin Grondin, [legendary Ocean Avenue founder] Bruce Walker, some of the top guys back then. And also, the brands were heavily behind ESA. All these companies were sponsoring events and surfers right out of ESAs.
So, what caused it to fall off, then?
I think the saturation of other organizations coming in. There's no longer a clear path. The direction of where [ESA's] would take you got very confusing. And then, you can't just walk up to a WSL contest and say, "Hey, I want to enter." You have to have points and be established.
So that's what this new partnership is all about. We wanted to find something the ESA could do to help provide a pathway. These parents are going broke spending money on all these other avenues—all good, all positive contests and organizations—but nothing is directly leading to the dream, which is the WSL. So that's what this is about. A direct pathway. Rebuilding ESA into a strong organization that provides a good training ground for kids on the East Coast.
Aside from this WSL partnership, I know you've been taking the All-Star team to Hawaii the last couple of years. What's that meant to the kids coming up?
Well when they brought me on, I wanted to really utilize every resource we have out there. We have Tamayo Perry helping us out. He is out there pushing kids into Sunset and Pipe. When it's his turn to get a wave he'll take one of our guys or girls and help them get a wave. So that's been incredible. Now, this year we've got Shane Beschen helping us for a couple of days. Tai VanDyke from Volcom is letting the kids hang out at the Volcom house. Jamie O'Brien is going to spend some time surfing with the kids. I see the kids really take it to the next level after being out there. Something just clicks for them over there. The kids are scaring me to death. Charging big sets. But that's what we want! It's incredible to watch the kids jump off the plane, like "Oh my God." And then they get out there and just go.