ESA Eastern Championships Preview – Title Threats: Junior Men

Eric Rheaume

DOB: 11/6/87
HOMETOWN: Jacksonville Beach, FL
HOMEBREAK: Jax Beach Pier
DISTRICT: North Florida (NFL)
DIVISION: Junior Men/Open
CURRENT RANK: 1st, Junior Men, NFL
SCHOOL/GPA: Jacksonville Christian Academy/ 2.5
HONORS: 2004 ESA Eastern Junior Men's Champion; 2004 ESA Eastern Boys Champion; 3rd, Junior Men, 2003 Pan American Games; 2002 ESA Eastern Boys Champion; 2001, 2002, 2003 ESA All-Star Team Member

It's late April and Eric Rheuame can't wait. In less than a month, he'll spend six weeks in Costa Rica followed by another whole month in California. "Gotta get some surf in," he explains. "Gotta train." Between the summer selection of national events like the American Surfing Championships and US Open, plus September's Easterns, Rheaume's got more on his competitive plate than ever before. And unlike last year, he's no longer a dark horse — he's a defending champ. "It definitely adds more pressure," explains Rheaume. "I try to put it out of my head, but now that I've won, it's like I have to keep the title." Rheaume knows more than anyone how tough that can be. In 2004, everyone expected the Junior Men's crown to go to incumbent Chris Ropero or Boys champ Eric Geiselman — until E-Ram came out of the shadows to upset them both. And now that he finds himself in the hot seat, he wants to be sure nobody does the same thing to him. "The up and coming kids are doing just as good as any of the supposed big threats," he explains. "If there's one thing I've learned, if you can upset other people, they can upset you. And I'm just trying to make sure that doesn't happen."

Jesse Heilman

DOB: 10/12/87
HOMETOWN: {{{Daytona}}} Beach, FL
HOMEBREAK: Ponce Inlet
DISTRICT: North Central Florida (NCFL)
DIVISION: Junior Men/Open
CURRENT RANK: 3rd, Junior Men, NCFL
SCHOOL/GPA: Active Learning Academy/ 3.8
HONORS: 2nd, 2005 Lost Pro Junior; 2nd Junior Men, 2005 Globe Scholastic Championships; 3rd, Junior Men, 2005 Southeast Regional Championships; 2nd, Open, 2005 Southeast Regionals

You should've seen Jesse Heilman surf last year, he was sick — literally. "I'd just gotten back from El Salvador," says Heilman of his still undiagnosed condition. "I must've gotten bit by a mosquito." Fortunately, the unexpected illness hasn't dampened Heilman's desire to travel. In the past year, Jesse's spent a month in both Tahiti and Australia, plus traveled to {{{Baja}}} with none other than Chris Ward. A fellow-proponent of high-risk, progressive surfing, riding the best waves with the best surfers is all part of Jesse's future plans to compete on the WQS. Right now he's focusing on going to Oz's Billabong World Junior Championships — a goal he was close to accomplishing at press time — but first he has to get some work done at home. A longtime threat for an Easterns title, Jesse's always come up short against such favored hometown threats as Eric Geiselman and Eric Rheaume. Now, for his final year in the ESA, he hopes to make sure the third time's a charm. "I definitely think this is the one," he explains. "I'm just gonna do my own thing and hopefully I take it."

Jesse Dyer

DOB: 10/13/87
HOMETOWN: New Smyrna Beach, FL
HOMEBREAK: New Smyrna Inlet
DISTRICT: North Central Florida (NCFL)
DIVISION: Jr. Men/Open
CURRENT RANK: 2nd, Junior Men, NCFL
SCHOOL/GPA: All American Home School/ NA
HONORS (BEST RESULTS): 2005 Southeast Regional Open Shortboard Champion; 3rd, Junior Men, 2005 Globe East Coast Scholastic Championships; 4th, Open Shortboard, 2005 Globe Scholastic Championships; =7th, 2005 Atlantic City Pro/Am.

Come September, the whole East Coast will turn its attention to Cape Hatteras for the ESA Easterns. But one competitor is also looking a bit further, whether it's keeping an eye on that next outside set or what's coming next in his career. "You kind of have to when you're pushing 18," laughs Jesse Dyer. "There's so much ahead after this year." Dyer's had plenty of experience surfing against the best Atlantic ams, but he's never been able to convert it into a major victory. But this time, things are looking different. He's been traveling a lot, scoring trips to California and Hawaii. And back home, he's watching the Geiselman brothers, picking up on their momentum. "Just surfing with those guys helps," says Jesse. "Even their parents surf good." As a result, he's posted some of his biggest results to date in the past few months — including an Open Shortboard win in the Southeast Regionals and a semis berth in a Jersey pro/am. It's all part of Dyer's plan to go pro this September no matter what. But before he can start cashing checks, he knows there's one more mission to accomplish. "I'd like to finish with a bang," he says. "There's a lot of good guys, but I figure anybody can do it. All it takes is one good wave."

Ben Graeff

DOB: 11/28/88
HOMETOWN: Longport, NJ
DISTRICT: Southern New Jersey (SNJ)
DIVISION: Junior Men/Open
CURRENT RANK: 1st, Junior Men, SNJ
SCHOOL/GPA: Upatinas Home School/3.8
HONORS: 4th, Jr. Men, 2005 Globe Scholastics; 2nd, Boys 2003 Northeast Regional Championships; 2003, 2004 ESA All-Star Team Member

Ben Graeff is the surfing equivalent of a Rhodes scholar, a kid who travels regularly to broaden his learning. And while fellow Jersey rippers like Zach Humphreys challenge him back home, he often makes his greatest strides on the road, even turning a Cali trip into a spot on the prestigious US Team. "It was only an alternate spot," he admits. "But it was really cool seeing the contest in Tahiti, cheering the guys on — and the surf was amazing. " Since then, Graeff's continued his studies broad, stopping in Hawaii to work on his big waves skills and spending a month in Florida training with former WCT powerhouse and US Champ Bryan Hewitson. "We went over heat skills and he critiqued me." He explains. " But just surfing with him made me up my own level." Soon after, Graeff made the final of the Globe Scholastics and later powered into the quarters of a Jersey pro/am before losing to Dean Randazzo, Frank Walsh and Sam Hammer. Still, Ben's determined to join the ranks of such Jersey heroes, starting with an Easterns win. And the best way is to apply the skills he learned elsewhere. "I actually learned to tube ride in Australia while traveling with the All Stars," he quips. "I figure that one'll definitely come in handy."

Philip Goold, VA

DOB: 8/24/89
HOMETOWN: Virginia Beach,VA
HOMEBREAK: First Street Jetty
DISTRICT: Virginia (VA)
DIVISION: Junior Men/Open
CURRENT RANK: 2nd, Jr. Men, VA
SCHOOL/GPA: Cox High School/3.2
HONORS (BEST RESULTS): 3rd, Men/ 6th Junior, 2005 Globe Scholastic Championships; 7th, Boys, Surfing America National Championships; 2003, 2004, 2005 ESA All-Stars; named All-Star Junior Captain, 2004

Drew Todd took Menehunes twice. Jason Borte managed a third in Boys. But if you wanna know the last time a VB surfer won the Junior Men's title, you have to go all the back to Wes Laine in 1978. "I don't know why that is," says Philip Goold. "Maybe guys are just slack around here." Not Philip. The All-Star Junior Captain's been on a mission to win Easterns for the past four years, including trips to Australia and training runs with Aussie team coach Martin Dunn. "That was really cool," says Goold. "We did a lot of mock heats and strategizing, plus he shows you things like where to put your hands in different places for speed out of the turn." Still, in many ways, it's the Vah Beach boys who keep Philip driven with their well-documented tradition of "verbal encouragement." "The jetty crew definitely gives me a hard time," he admits. "It's cool though, they keep me motivated." It's not just a daily teasing regimen that Philip faces. Borte himself hosts weekend clinics for Goold and others to practice and learn new skills in hopes of seeing another VB champ. So what's are his chances like come September? Well, according to Coach Jason: "He's definitely the best kid around here." Now it's up to Philip to prove he's the best on the whole coast.

Hunter Lineback

DOB: 5/8/89
HOMEBREAK: 64th Ave. N., Myrtle Beach
DISTRICT: Northern South Carolina (NSC)
DIVISION: Junior Men/Open
CURRENT RANK: 2nd, Junior Men, NSC
SCHOOL/GPA: Conway Christian School/ 4.0
HONORS (BEST RESULTS)) 2004 ESA Eastern Boys Champion, 5th, Open Shortboard, 2004 ESA Eastern Championships; 2004 ESA Eastern Junior Ironman; Open and Juniors Champion, 2004 South Carolina State Surfing Championships; 5th, 2005 No Fear/Aqua East Junior Pro; 2005 ESA All Star Team Member

For years, the ESA's competitive epicenter has been moving farther and farther north of Central Florida. But nobody expected it would go as far as to leave the state entirely — until last year when South Carolina's Hunter Lineback took the Boys title. "Even I was surprised," Hunter admits. "I knew I was surfing well but I didn't think I could win." Since then, Hunter's been taking steps to maintain the momentum, traveling to Central America and Puerto Rico to boost his performance in waves of consequence, which he says is the key any East Coast surfer. "One thing we can do down here is surf small waves," he explains. "And now once I get into bigger waves, it makes it even easier." But this year, it's not the size of the surf that will challenge Hunter; it's the size of his competition. As his first season in Junior Men, Hunter faces an older, wiser and deeper field. But he's used to tests of endurance — he also competes in swimming and martial arts — and, of course, he's been in this situation before. "I don't think it's any harder, really," says Hunter. "It's just like last year; it's time to step up."