No Easy Street

Andrew Gesler takes the hard road, winning his way back into the Garden State Grudge Match

Jersey surfers dig adversity. Maybe that's because it's all they know.

Dean Randazzo set the standard by duking his way into deity status, battling comps and cancer to prove you gotta suffer to succeed. And the Garden State Grudge Match maintains the brutal tradition, rewarding just one surfer while punishing eight others, forcing the lowest scorers to re-qualify through a separate trial event to prove they deserve another shot at 'the belt' — even if you're a top talent like Andrew Gesler. "I was pissed for sure," says the 25-year-old Ocean City native of last year's loss. "But it gave me more drive. I definitely came here to win." Win he did, just last Friday, taking down two up-and-comers –?PJ Raia and Pat Schmidt — and most, notably Florida transplant and former super-grom Josh Wilson. Now, after a year of competing and working on the upcoming vid, Dark Fall, Gesler can turn his focus back on Jersey surfing's greatest reward: winning the Grudge Match come October.

SURFINGMAGAZINE.COM: How were the trials?

ANDREW GESLER: It was epic. The best swell of the summer thus far. It was about shoulder-high, peaky, barreling. Those first few heats in the morning were absolutely flawless. Nobody wanted to clear the lineup. And the final was solid. Josh Wilson got second. Then PJ Raia and Pat Schmidt. They're groms. Like 15 and 14. But they both spend a good amount of time in California for the summer, surfing NSSAs and Pro Juniors and stuff. I'm impressed with them both. They're well rounded. They're taking their time, getting positioned properly, putting together and good turns and good heats. Took out guys twice their age.

Well, that's the whole reason the trials came about, right? The talent level was getting so thick, y'all needed a way to filter in the fresh blood.

Yeah, it started out as the prestigious invite event. Just Jersey's best battling for bragging rights. And it's always held in good surf — that's the other thing. Cloupe does a phenomenal job of going through a stressful waiting period and nails it every time. So it's become popular. Now if you lose first heat – and have one of the lowest scores — you gotta go requalify again. It just adds a little pressure, because you know there's other guys nipping at your heels to get back in.

Did that make the trials even more stressful?

Nah, I was feeling pretty good. The night before we had our "Dark Fall" fund raiser. That ended about 2 or 3am, but I still got to the event bright and early. But I cut it close one heat. Cloupe was offering up some cash for airs — $50 for anyone who landed a reverse, a double grab, a bunch of different ones — and they were egging me on to go out there and do 'em. My first five or six waves I kept coming unglued. Five minutes left I didn't even have a score. I was a little stressed out. But I was able to put two on the board before the heat was over.

Well, you know you've got a shot now. What's the closest you've gotten to the belt?

Second place. I lost to Keenan like five years ago. I'm still pissed about that, too. [laughs] Hey, it's the Grudge Match. That's what's killer is the contest really means something to all of us. It's a big deal. And it's the priority for me right now. I gotta have one. You know when you want something —and this is something I want.

What about Wilson? This is the first time a Florida boy's gotten in. How much of a threat is he? And what'll happen if he wins?

Josh Wilson rips. He's a phenomenal surfer. He's got a great contest game.. He's at every NSSA and ESA helping coach kids and stuff. Just a great dude. A really, really nice guy. I'm super impressed with him on so many levels. But…when it comes to the Grudge Match, we're not gonna let him even get close to that belt. Just because he's a Florida transplant. I know every single one of us will be gunning even harder.

Well, weirder things have happened. I doubt most folks would've pegged you for ending up in the trials. What if you have another first-round shocker — do you get a free pass at all for winning this thing?

I don't think so. You go right back into it. In the years past I got a wildcard for being injured. But if I lose, I want to requalify, I don't want to just take somebody's wildcard. I want to keep this thing legit. I like the format I know what it does for surfers in New Jersey and the groms looking up. No easy street, you know?

1. Ander Gesler
2. Josh Wilson
3. PJ Raia
4. Pat Schmidt