ESA Eastern Championships Preview – AN ALL STAR IS BORN

Chugging Tabasco sauce, selling raffle tickets and surfing back-to-back heats. Putting up tents, going big and not backing down. What do all these things have in common? They're all part of being an Eastern Surfing Association All Star.

Being a member of the ESA's elite is not just about having a sticker on your board; it's about joining a team with roots back to surfers like Kelly Slater, Ben Bourgeois and Eric Taylor. Just to be nominated to become an All Star is a feat that few of the ESA's 7000 surfers ever experience, and to actually make the team is even more difficult. Besides being a committed and skilled athlete, you must possess two even greater attributes: a positive attitude and a good reputation. Every year, the ESA chooses a new team of 36 surfers at Cape Hatteras, NC after the ESA Easterns wraps up. But before that event is over there is always some serious surfing going on to fight for a spot on the team, and this past year was no exception.

With some of the "gnarliest" conditions ever at the Easterns there were a lot of standout performances, especially in the youth divisions. Menehunes like Nick Rupp and Keenan Lineback ripped sweeping, overhead waves that would drown most elementary students. And the Girls carried the same never-say-die attitude into their stormy final, as Amy Nicholl and Christa Alves clashed in the overhead closeouts. The kids weren't the only potential casualties in the lunging lineup — organizers kept hip braces and lifebuoys at hand during the Senior Longboard Heats, just in case guys like Bill Whatley and Bobby Holland started feeling their age, which they didn't. Otherwise, they wouldn't make the team.

Of course, they didn't know they'd made it until later — nobody did. In fact, waiting at the Easterns awards ceremony could be the most nerve-wracking trial of the whole All Star experience. After surfing through numerous contests and countless heats, it all comes down to a five-minute roll call. As each name rolls of the Director's tongue your stomach twists tighter, sick with the knowledge you are competing against thousands of people, knowing quite well it may not be your year. But if you do hear the first few letters of your name come out of the speakers, it's the best moment of the whole Easterns. And as you look around the stage and see surfers like Ashley Francis, Tony Silvagni, Philip Goold and the Heverly brothers — you realize that's just the beginning of an exciting year filled with hard work and adventure.

One of the biggest rewards of being an All Star is the infamous summer trip. Every year the team travels to an exotic destination such as Costa Rica, Mexico, Puerto Rico or Australia. It's a once in a lifetime experience and a great way to meet new people and bond as a team…and the waves aren't bad either!

When you are on a surfing adventure with 25 people some craziness is bound to happen, all bets are considered and people will do anything for a little extra cash, from eat the top of a pizza box to drink a gallon of milk in less than an hour. This past year I was put to the challenge of chugging a full bottle of Tabasco sauce. By the time $35 bucks hit our dinner table, I knew there was no backing out so I turned the bottle upside down and put some of what I learned in my freshman year of college to work. I finished it off, slammed the bottle down and claimed it — then a few seconds later it claimed me. I was in the bathroom for the next hour and out of the water for the next couple days, but everyone got a good laugh and that is really what this ESA All Star team is about: meeting new people, improving your skills and having a great time.

It's funny. Now that I'm stepping down as Captain I realize how much I'll miss my time on the team. Being an ESA All Star still stands as one of my greatest surfing achievements and I imagine it was the same for Zander Morton, ET and the other captains through the years. But I know it's time to move on and give up my slot to someone else — someone who will hopefully enjoy it as much as I did. At least for now. After all, the ESA is a family you never leave, and I'm sure I'll be back in a few years, older, wiser and ready to compete for a spot back on the team. I may not make it, but that's one bet I'll always be happy to take.