The year is 1995. OJ Simpson is acquitted for murder, America is enjoying the fruits of the Internet Boom, and unbeknownst to Florida, it is hosting its last major ASP sanctioned event. In 2005, the surfing population of Florida will see something it has not witnessed in ten years — and OJ and an Internet Economy are not it.

On January 2-7, The Sebastian Inlet Pro Hosted by Kelly Slater will coincide with Florida’s annual Surf {{{Expo}}} to become one of the year’s biggest East Coast surf events. As the Surf Expo alone attracts over 18,000 attendees to preview a myriad of surf company products, and as professional surfers are urged to come and represent their sponsors, the Sebastian Inlet Pro is a strategically timed WQS event meant to attract big names and crowds. Run by Board {{{Sports}}} Management, the contest will be a three-star men’s competition and will possibly include a women’s division as well.

“I approached Kelly with the idea,” Mitch Varnes, head of Board Sports Management, {{{recalls}}}. “We have been friends for many years and we had often talked about the lack of a high-level event in the Florida area. So when I found myself in a position where I could start making things happen I called Kelly and said look, will you put your name behind this to help get the ball rolling? And he said, “I’m stoked, I’m in. Let’s do it.'”

For Varnes, finding encouragement from a strong surf community was not difficult. The Hobgood and Lopez brothers did no hesitate to give verbal confirmation of their attendance. Even a local bank, The Space Coast Credit Union, has gotten into the action and is hosting a series of Kelly Slater Movie nights.

“It’s almost all community sponsors,” says Varnes, “and it’s really important to Kelly to bring the community into the event.”

The concluding ceremonies of the contest will take place at the Surf Expo party, making both shindigs more interesting and attractive to the public. At the suggestion of Kelly Slater, there will even be a surfboard auction from the manufacturers that are exhibiting their goods at the show, and all the proceeds will go to both the Central Florida School for Children of Downs Syndrome (a favorite charity of Kelly’s) and the U.S. Amateur Surf team. However, as Mitch Varnes confessed, organizing a gigantic convention for Florida’s surf population has not been his only major objective:

” I’ll lay it out. If you look at US surfing on a competitive scale and the quality of WQS events being offered it’s pathetic when compared to Brazil, Australia, and Europe. We may have the best surfers in the world but we’re doing the poorest job of running high caliber WQS events. This is an attempt to bring high level WQS events back to the United States, and this is the stepping stone on the East Coast.”

Accordingly, the Sebastian Inlet Pro has not gone unnoticed. Surfing America, a National Governing Body for surfing in the U.S. made up of the NSSA, ESA, and HASA, has been attempting to organize a series of four-star level competitions throughout the states in order to get more Americans on the WCT. They are looking at several grass roots tournaments to sponsor — and guess who’s currently on their list? Needless to say, this has helped Varnes in running the event.

“I would expect to see almost every pro from the Americas surfing in the contest” says Varnes; and with Fuel TV coverage along with a Tow at Event organized by Red Bull and Sea Doo (entrance for WCT competitors is still pending), there is little reason to doubt this prediction.

Come January 7, 2005, when the Sebastian Inlet Pro nears to an end, for American surf competitors this latest WQS event will just be the beginning... Daniel Brown

The Sebastian Inlet Pro’s current sponsors include the Space Coast Board of Tourism, Florida Sports Foundation, Surf Expo, Ron Jon Surf Shops, Ocean Potion Sun Care Products, Red Bull, Sea Doo, FCS, K-Grip, American Business Interiors, National RV, Nirve Bicycles, Board Retailers Association, Surfing and Surfer magazine, and Primedia. Sponsorship opportunities are still available (contact Mitch Varnes at for more info).

Photo courtesy of Eastern Surf Magazine. For non-stop East Coast coverage go to