2005 ESA Easterns Surfing Championships: Day 1

Surf: a dribbly ankle to knee- high-plus
Events Run: Men (Rounds 1 and 2); Masters (Rounds 1 and 2); Grand Masters Rounds One and Two); Ladies (Round 1 and Semi-Main); Women's (Round 1); Senior Longboard (Round 1); Legends Longboard (Round 1)
Nature's Call: Just be happy I didn't wipe this place off the map.
Predicted: A boost in swell for the end of the week - and a lot of grumbling by today's losers.

It all comes down to timing. Two days ago, the Outer Banks lit up. Spitting chest-to-head-high A-frames swarmed the coast like so many seabirds, courtesy of one Hurricane Ophelia as she sped up the coast. Yesterday, she wasn't firing, but she was fun. And today? Well, today it's not just disappointing, it's dismal, with limp, dribbly ankle-slappers tapping the shoreline in the armpit of Buxton's first groin. But let's put things into perspective: just last Thursday, Ophelia literally nested on Hatteras' nose, grinding away sand, rattling houses and forcing ESA organizers to push the 2005 ESA Eastern Championships back a day. So, rather than bitch and moan about a 24-hour lapse in surf, we'll take a lesson from Katrina and be thankful Ophelia was only a Cat One, that there's a contest to be had, and that there's a place left to have it. Besides, forecasters say a swell will pop up later this week to show Buxton's true potential and make all of today's groveling worthwhile — at least for those with the good fate to stick around - and that's good news. Because anything's got to be better than today.

PERFORMER OF THE DAY:Anybody who got through their heat today has a shot at this title, just for surviving 15 minutes of faint pulses. At dawn, the knee-high surf was literally slapping the shore making it hard to catch a wave, much less surf it. And for most of the morning, scoring a low 3 was as good as a perfect 10. But by the time the Men's second round kicked in mid-day, so did the surf, and so did the performances. Alex Fawess, Aaron Taylor, Tony Silvagni and Erik Schub were a few of the Round 2 Men's competitors who left the hopping behind and stated doing real turns, but it was Wayne Satterwhite who surprised everyone, as the relative unknown threw some seriously committed gaffs, nicking Jeremy Stanley and Sean Martin in one of the day's tightest heats.

HEAT OF THE DAY:Masters, Round 2; Heat One. For this brief interlude were actually a couple of rippable sets and real exchanges. And it was timed perfectly to meet an all-Florida final filled with longtime ESA talent. Willy Gilreath, Les Carrithers and Shawn Clark joined North Florida heavies Jason Motes and Buddy Evans, plus 2004 Masters Champ Spanky Passarelli for a good, ol' fashioned gator-wrassle, banging scales, ripping faces and barely avoiding some close interferences in the fight for survival with Motes, Clark and Carrithers emerging victorious. It was the closest thing to drama all day, but in all dramas there must be some tears, which leads us to . . .

SHOCKERS:First thing this morning, Spanky Passarelli literally stood up to get a second wave score and advance to Round 2. By mid-day, the slight boost in size helped, but the retuning champ couldn't convert the surplus in surf, out-hassled by a lopsided heat and narrowly losing out before getting a shot at repeating his win less than 24 hours after arriving on the island. Likewise, last year's Men's winner Slater Powell slipped through the cracks, finishing dead last without doing a single trademark power-cuttie that put him on top last year. As 2003 Masters champ Pat Emery noted, "On good days, it's like a chance for the lesser talents to rise up. Bad days, it's just another way for the good guys to lose early."

INSIDE SCOOPS:There may not have been a heap of action in the water today, but there was plenty going on behind the scenes. First of all, the interviews are in fastforward to find a replacement for Executive Director Kathy Phillips who announced last year that the 2005 ESA Easterns would be her last at the helm. The Board of Directors has til October 30 to make their decision, and according to ESA founder and historian Cecil Lear the selection process is coming to a close as they speak. Says Cecil, "We have a couple of really good candidates. I can't tell you who, but I'll give you a hint: they are ESA members."

So, next year the ESA will have a new leader. Now the question is: will the Easterns have a new home? It will if Brian Broom has his way. For years, the frustrated Competition has fumed over Cape Hatteras National Seashore's federal guidelines, which restrict the use of banners and signage at the contest, limiting the site to just a few white tents and stunting promotion and sponsorship growth. Now, the park's complaining about lensmen shooting the contest, saying there's no "commercial photography" allowed on federal land. Most competitors are loyal to the beaches beneath the lighthouse but Broom makes a good point: "If I can't have a contest site, and I can't have contest coverage, it won't be long before I can't have a contest."

Will draconian park policies push the contest north to Nags Head? Or will tradition win out over progress? Those are questions for next year. In the meantime, {{{600}}} competitors are here and ready to compete - right now. Let's hope some equally committed surf follows shortly.

QUOTABLES:"Hey, it was breaking five yards off the beach this morning - now it's ten yards." - ESA Great Lakes Director Lester Priday's optimistic assessment of the conditions.

"Look, we're in North Carolina so I'm gonna play it - besides, the dog likes it." - Announcer's response to audience groans over country music.