Halftime Report

If you could have any type of sponsor, what would it be? Sickest clothing? Space-age boards? The hottest rubber? Well, if you were an NSSA competitor living in the Mid-Atlantic the past few years, you'd be begging for one thing: free gas.

With conferences in only New Jersey and Florida, making your way to Nationals from anywhere else took plenty of drive — literally. Hours upon hours in either direction. At least until last fall when North Carolina's Anthony French brought the NSSA back to the Mid-Atlantic. "We had a conference for a little while, we just didn't have the membership," says French. "But with all the talent coming out of here now, it just seemed like the perfect timing to try again; a way to let our surfers stay competitive and still stay at home."

No kidding. Standouts like Virginia's Michael Dunphy and Philip Goold, South Carolina's Cam and Cole Richards and Keenan Lineback plus North Carolina's Heverly brothers, Nick Rupp and Brett Barley currently represent the biggest talent boom in years, which may explain why just halfway through the season, membership is already on par with the Sunshine and Garden states. Add a few more fall comps on in heaving Outer Banks barrels, and the rest of the coast might start coming to them.

SURFINGMAGAZINE: How many events have you run so far?

ANTHONY FRENCH: Two. We've had three called of due to no surf. We're trying to make up those now so the competitors can be ready for the East Coast Championships at Sebastian in April. We've got one in Wrightsville this weekend, February 7 and 8 — waves permitting. One more March 7-8. And then a third in Nags Head the first weekend in April.

Sounds cold.

Well, we concentrate our season from August thru December, so we get the most opportunity for surf and the kindest weather. But I'm committed to running in the colder months if need be. These guys don't mind as long as the waves are good. If it's really freezing we just crank up the propane heaters. [laughs]

Your numbers are already bigger than the Northeast conference and even some Southeast divisions. Have you noticed some of those guys coming to compete? Or are you still seeing mostly mid-Atlantic competitors?

The core group that we have are guys who are committed to doing the NSSA and were traveling to the Northeast or Florida conferences. No Florida or New Jersey guys here yet. But I expect 2009 /2010 we might for those Outer Banks events in the fall. And we haven't even really begun to tap the other core surfers from Virginia to Georgia.

What about the other way: are your top guys still going to Florida to stay sharp?

I think a few may start running to Florida when the weather gets real brutal here, but for the most part they're sticking tight. The real tough part is scheduling. There's so many events — ESA, specialty events, pro juniors — there are a lot of conflicts. I know Fisher Heverly didn't do the Sebastian Inlet Pro because he was required to be at a US Team camp in California. So he's actively balancing all those responsibilities. A lot of these guys are. That's why I'm glad we're here to make it easier for them to get to the East Coast Championships and — hopefully — Nationals.

Obviously, getting to Nationals is the primary goal. Is it still possible for someone who hasn't surfed a comp this year to be at Lowers in June?

Well, first, they'd have to do well at the East Coast Championships in Florida – it's tiered system. But because we have three events left, a kid could get enough points to go to Sebastian and — provided he did well enough there— end up at Nationals. Absolutely.

So far you've stuck to Wrightsville Beach and Nags Head. Any plans to push farther out and hold comps in VB or South Carolina?

We hope to push out into VB when we can. Those guys don't mind the Outer Banks because it's not far to travel and the waves are better. But at the same time, it's good to spread things out so no one group's doing all the driving. And we really want to develop the college divisions. UNC Wilmington has been at every event but there are other colleges up and down the coast that could be– ODU in Norfolk, College of Charleston. There's also a misconception that you have to be in school to surf the NSSA, but we have {{{Explorer}}} divisions that go 25 and up, 35 and up, 45 and up. We'd love to those guys come out, as well.

Now we're talking your age bracket. You surf any heats this year?

[laughs]. I'd like to, but I've been too busy running the show. I'll get in there one day. Maybe. But if I need to stay on the beach, that's fine, too. The end goal here is to make a quality event so when these competitors move on to the Pro Junior or WQS events they have a true understanding what's expected of them. Not just surfing, but knowing the rules and regs, making sure they're on the beach on time, communicating well — everything. We're not babysitting.

For info on how to compete in the NSSA Mid-Atlantic Conference– including Wrightsville's Feb. 7-8 event (back up date of Feb. 21-22) – call Anthony French at 252-671-1495.