Sebastian Beach Inn (SBI) has a great bar. It’s close to the beach, starts turning on a little after noon, and on April 17th it drew 16 of Florida’s best surfers to play their hands at winning $3000 in cold hard cash at the Smith Optics High Roller Contest. Of course, they were going surfing. The bar would have to wait.

As far as the sandbar at SBI, that’s been pretty good too lately. That’s why Smith rep and contest organizer Paul Reinecke picked it to host the second annual invitational event. In a chest to shoulder-high windswell-groundswell mix, Team Dirty South — consisting of Peter Mendia, Baron Knowlton, CT Taylor, Danny Melhado, Jeremy Saukel, Phillip Watters, Bill Hartley, and Bryan Hewitson — faced off against Team Gabe (in respect to last year’s High Roller winner Gabe Kling): Eric Taylor, Jeremy Creter, Tommy O’Brien, Ryan Briggs, Aaron Cormican, Dave Speir, Asher Nolan, and Kling in man-on-man heats from start to finish.

Standouts? Everybody. No shit. This was flat-out the best representation of Eastern pro talent outside of the WCT five alive: Slater, the Hobgoods, and the Lopezes. In fact, some of these invitees have been on the ‘CT before. Others might still make it in the future. Spectators were treated to a kaleidoscope of fin-free blasts and bulldozer gouges during the six-hour brawl, as well as an Expression Session — where ET, already eliminated from the competition, still managed to take home ${{{100}}} and a Sector Nine skateboard for “Best Air” and “Best 360.” Danny Melhado laid it down to take “Most Powerful” and soon-to-be daddy Asher Nolan picked up the pace for “Most Progressive.”

Contestants had the opportunity to make $40 a heat, too, by rolling the dice against the dealer, Reinecke, hence the name “High Roller.” “You gotta roll doubles,” explained Rhino, and your third dice is your score. The heats are set at $20, so if you gamble and win the dice roll and win the heat, you get $40. If you gamble and lose the dice roll and win the heat, you win no money. If you decide not to gamble, and you win the heat, you only win $20. Confusing? Not to anyone who left with a few crisp Andrew Jackson’s in their pockets.

By the time the final commenced, two eerily similar surfers paddled out to give each other their space at different ends of the sandbar — both goofyfoots, both hair shy, and both regularly split the seas like Moses. Case in point: Hewy’s first wave, which earned him a perfect 10, a score that not a single person seemed to argue with. To his credit, Baron clawed his way within a half point of Hewy’s total with a screaming left, but it was too late. Winning last year’s Quiksilver King of the Peak contest and now punctuating it with this hard-fought $3000 victory, without speaking a word, Hewy has made his statement frighteningly clear: He’s currently the best surfer in Florida. Read into that however you like.

“I saw him do five whacks, and was just like ‘No! I’m gonna really have to get something spectacular,” said Knowlton. “The wave didn’t come, so now I’m second two years in a row [laughs]. But I still got a grand, and this is the greatest event I have ever entered. I wish this format would carry over and some other companies would try it, because this contest stepped it up. Asher Nolan was here. Peter Mendia was here . . . all kinds of guys I was shocked to see. Rhino’s got a good thing going here, and I’d hate to see someone else get involved and try to make it a points thing. It would totally take the fun and camaraderie out of it. I hate where some guy gets two waves and comes and sits on you. This is all based on you getting a wave and showing how you surf.”

Hewy, though, couldn’t be grabbed in time for a quote. As soon as he gave his thank-yous and said his goodbyes, he was gone. The entire contest scene then migrated to the SBI bar. But not Hewy. He was down the steps, and around the deck quicker than you could say, “tour comeback.” With eight more months of WQS contests ahead, he had work to do.
Matt Pruett /Eastern Surf Magazine