The skepticism was boundless when Quiksilver announced that Long Beach, NY would be the first East Coast stop on the ASP world tour. But after five days of stellar surfing and an epic finals round, all doubt was washed away.
Just a 50-minute train ride outside of Manhattan, Long Beach’s surf scene often goes unnoticed. Yet, it is undoubtedly there. When the surf is weak, kids hang out behind the local surf shop, riding their longboards through a barrel shaped tree overhang. Dragging their fingers against the pavement, they envision their next day out on a board.
In the winter, on snowy sands, they are out there with purple lips. It’s a devoted group that makes the best of the waves presented. And when hurricane season rolls through, the Long Island strip sees some great sets. The water may be murky and brown, but you know don’t need glassy, blue seas to get good swells.
100,000 people lined the beach last week to watch the world’s top surfers compete for a first-ever $1 million prize purse. Each heat was filled with constant entertainment and unlikely matchups. Even an early round heat between Long Beach native, 20-year-old Balaram Stack, and 10-time world champion Kelly Slater, proved a tight competition. The week brought skilled maneuvers, big airs, and fresh names that made this inaugural event one for the records.
Slater, in routine fashion, made it to the finals. With a one-wave chance at advancing out of the semis, he pulled a perfect 360 off the closing lip to score the only 10 of the competition.
But, in the finals, it was all about a new face: 21-year-old Owen Wright. The Aussie underdog walked away with $300,000 and earned a quick jump to the No. 2 spot in the world rankings.
The event originally entailed skate and BMX competitions as well, but due to Hurricane Irene damage, the extras were cancelled. That didn’t stop the crowds from piling in with their unparalleled New Yorker energy. While surf competitions are routine on the West Coast, the novelty of the location brought a sense of wide-eyed joy to the spectators.
There was no set image or age to the masses that were stoked to watch pros surf their hometown break. The excitement was unavoidable, as even parents found themselves knee-deep in the vernacular, commenting on “gnarly” moves. The waves seemed to build all week up to the culmination of Friday’s shoulder height waves. As New York does best, it surprised, thrilled, and provided us with the best in the end.
While the tournament ended on Friday, the surfing continued on through the weekend. Saturday was host to the Bravest vs. Finest battle in the water: FDNY vs. NYPD. Slater coached the FDNY while South African Travis Logie helped the latter. But it was Slater and the ladder crew that took the win.
Come Sunday, the waves settled down for the day, as to tire from all the action seen in one week. On a peaceful, September sea, pro and local surfers alike lined up and paddled out to the end of the jetties for a 9/11 memorial. The competition was over, and the spirit was thriving as remembrance and respect ran deep through the water.
As the weekend came to a close, the wetsuits and rashguards were slowly pulled off the banisters of the boardwalk hotels. The surfers packed up and headed back to Australia, Brazil, and beyond, leaving their mark on the city by the sea, and perhaps, taking a piece of New York with them.