The Missing Pieces

New Jersey's Rob Kelly fills out his comp resume with the ESA Eastern Junior Men's and Open Titles

The ESA started in New Jersey in 1967; four decades later, it finished in Jersey. When Ocean City's Rob Kelly won the Junior Men's and Open titles, he kept the trophies in the Garden State, exactly where Zack Humphreys took them in 2006 and - as a result — marked an end of the Florida dominance that once overshadowed the Buxton like the lighthouse itself. Of course, with 40 years of throwing down, the ESA Eastern Surfing Championships has seen it's share of out-of-state icons: NC's Ben Bourgeois, NY's Ricky Rasmussen; NJ's Matt Keenan. But for the second straight year, every marquis division featured a non-gator champ: North Carolina's Nick Rupp took another Boys title; South Carolina phenom Keenan Lineback finally took the Girls crown; even the Menehunes went to Holden Beach, NC's Weston Williams. Does this mean more future Easterns champs will hail from Manasquan than Melbourne? Maybe not next year, but give it a couple more decades. As Kelly notes, "I think there's a lot more of us up here than ever before."

You kept the big trophies in Jersey - in the 40th year no less. That must feel nice.

Well, this is big for me because this is the last East Coast Championship I hadn't won. It's like the last piece of the puzzle. I've never been able to pull it together at Easterns. Last year I won the Scholastics and I blew it in Hatteras. The year before that I won ECSC in Virginia and then blew it at Hatteras. This year I won the NSSA Open Men's title, so I came to here like, "I really gotta win this."

And you ended up winning both Juniors and Open. Just like Zack did last year, like Jesse Heilman did before that. And Eric Rheaume before that. Do you think there's a slipstream effect to winning the Open?

Well, the Open ran for the first couple days, before the Juniors even started. And I was seeded in that one, which bought me a day to freesurf and get used to the Lighthouse. So going into the next day, I was feeling comfortable. They weren't gonna announce the winner until Saturday's awards ceremony, but they had live scoring and I had a couple good 7s at the end so everyone kind of knew. That's definitely a confidence booster going into the Juniors, so yeah, that probably helped me stay undefeated through the double-eliminations. Actually, Vince [Boulanger] beat me in our first double-elimination heat -- he scored like an 8.8 -- but since I was undefeated, we surfed a second time and I beat him, so I won. Both heats were super close though. He lost by .04.

What's funny is he was second last year, too, but he's still got this low-profile, shocker rep.

Yeah, he's sort of been the underdog both years. But I guess he didn't do as well in the preseason stuff, like Regionals and Scholastics. But he actually got the highest score of the contest, like a 9.5.

When you look at the final 8 in Junior Men, it's you from Jersey, Vince from Maryland, Dunphy and Goold from VB, Brett from the Outer Banks, Cole Richards from South Carolina - the only Florida guys were Kedren Ferrero and Andy Karabanchik. Do you feel like there's been a power shift north?

Definitely. Even at the NSSA East Coast Championships the Open Men's final was Philip in second, Blake Jones got third, and then Fisher Heverly got fourth. And a lot of guys from Jersey did really well, here, too. Mike Ciaramella made Boys final. Britney Hickey, she got second to Keenan Lineback in Girls. It seems like more Jersey finalists then we've had.

Why is that?

This is weird, but I think just the wetsuits getting better. Kids have been surfing winters more. I was talking to Dean [Randazzo] and [Matt] Keenan and they're freaking because there's 10-year-old kids in Ocean City who are surfing year-round. And that's never happened before. So, yeah, this is just the beginning. I think it's only gonna get better.

Photos courtesy of Eastern Surf Magazine. Check the next issue of ESM for an in-depth photo restrospective of 40 years ofthe ESA, plus results of this year’s event.