TURF: 16th Annual Tommy Tant Memorial Classic presented by Nautica; Flagler Beach, FL; October 31st-November 1st, 2015.
ENERGY: Contestants and spectators alike were all smiles as the positive tradition continued into its 16th year of surfing, fundraising, and remembering a phenomenal human being. Three- to five-foot surf came in on Saturday for the first day of competition before dwindling in size to two- to three-foot Sunday for finals day. The memorial paddle-out was held Sunday at noon, when Tommy Tant’s family, including brother Will, mother Barbara, dad Tom, and 100 fellow surfers took to the water to pay their respects.
FIRST TIME AT FIGHT CLUB: The 2015 edition of this amazing event introduced the priority system and also made the semifinals and finals man-on-man heats, rather than the four-man scrap fest of the past. Overall, surfers were pleased with the change as it allowed them to bring some intelligence into the game plan and let their surfing do the talking. “It makes the contest a lot more fun because it’s so different surfing in a four-man heat where you’re paddling around people instead of being able to wait patiently,” said Men’s Pro winner Evan Thompson. “It also brings in tactics and utilizing priority by taking waves from your opponent if they’re in need of a score.” It was also Thompson’s and Pro Junior victor Cobie Gittner’s first Pro Junior win at this event after both have made numerous finals. “I was super thankful they used the priority system,” said Women’s Pro winner Nikki Viesins. “It allowed you a chance to get a couple of good set waves since you were allotted only about 20 minutes and there weren’t a lot of good ones coming through with the outgoing tide change for the final.”
SLIDE: Entering his fourth year of competition at the Tommy Tant event, Evan Thompson claimed his first victory in three attempts over Aaron Cormican. “It was so good to finally win,” Thompson said. “I came up against Jeremy [Johnston] in the semifinals so I had to get him back from [finishing runner-up to him] last year. It was a close heat. He had some good scores and it just came down to the end where I held priority for the majority of the closing minutes and he needed a score. I hung close by to him and was just really picky on what waves to go on or hold him off on. And then with Gorkin in the final this year it was insane. All those guys are so great and to see some of them lose out early on shows how stacked this event really was.” With Cormican paddling to the outside, Thompson was worried he’d missed something while scanning the waves prior to the final. But, after getting his scores early, the Jacksonville Beach, FL, native took down the three-time champion. Still, Thompson said he was most stoked about the vision behind the Tommy Tant. “There are so many people that get involved every year for this event with behind the scenes and volunteering – it’s really incredible,” Thompson said. “Then you have the scholarships they give out and just the opportunity presented to the kids. It’s such a cool venue with the boardwalk, the view, it’s just a fantastic atmosphere and everybody there is so happy. For something so tragic like that and to turn it around into something so great is really awesome.”
Earning back-to-back victories at this prestigious event, Nikki Viesins continued her form after a win in Puerto Rico and is looking stronger than ever. Taking down Braidyn Cunningham in the final, it was no easy task for the Space Coast surfer. “I always love competing in this event and it’s a great feeling to win it two years in a row,” Viesins said. “It was kind of neat because I have always surfed against Braidyn’s sister in the past here, so that was cool to see Braidyn’s level of talent. She definitely kept me on my toes. I had to work for my win here throughout the entire event and that just shows the younger talent’s potential as they get older and how good they can be.” Taking down Storm Portman in the semis en route to her finals appearance, Viesins had her work cut out for her. Portman, making a big return to competitive surfing this year after the nose of her board pierced her eye earlier in 2015, is back in force. “Having a local girl who is really talented wasn’t easy,” Viesins said. “I honestly don’t think that what I’ve seen of her surfing, her eye doesn’t hold her back any. She definitely proved that in this event winning all of her heats up until the final.” Viesins added that she appreciates the purpose of the Tommy Tant. “I love that the people who make it happen and get it going each year are super positive. There’s not a lot of contests besides NSSA that help with education and scholarships, so to see them do that is incredible. To bring awareness about the aortic aneurysm and give a brief talk about it at the ending ceremonies is great, and they also recognize everyone who’s involved with making this event happen. It’s just amazing to see.”
Beginning his Tommy Tant history with the Amateur divisions at age 12, Cobie Gittner claimed his first Pro Junior win, holding off Robbie McCormick in the Final — though it wasn’t without a lack of suspense. “It was head-to-head up until the last seconds and he got two waves in the dying minutes that were both super close to getting the score,” Gittner said. “We sat in ankle-deep water for about three minutes waiting to hear the results. Holding priority and getting the better waves of the heat ended up being a huge factor.” Last year’s runner-up added that he wasn’t surprised with McCormick’s performance as he is such a technical surfer and can find air sections on waves that look to be giving nothing. Gittner has big plans as 2015 comes to a close and prepares to take on the World Surf League Men’s Qualification Series season beginning with Sunset Beach, HI, in January. But it’s at Flagler Beach year in and year out where the vibes stay positive no matter the situation. “Everyone’s always super excited when they’re out of the water whether they win or lose, which you don’t see a lot of places,” Gittner said. “This event makes you feel better about the entry fees and prizes when the money isn’t just going into someone’s pocket but goes back to the community. Just with the aneurysm treatment donations and scholarships given out, it’s definitely a better feel to the whole event.”
THE MAN: This event pays homage to a man who embodied surfing’s purest nature. It wasn’t about who won or lost with Tommy Tant, but the camaraderie that is found in the water alongside your fellow competitor. The Tommy Tant Memorial Classic is one of the few contests that puts the money back into the hands of the surfers, both young and old. Tommy’s brother Will and mother Barbara both have the same genetic mutation, known as Marfan syndrome, and are astonished with the support they and others battling this mutation have received. “It’s moving to think about all the people behind the number,” Will Tant said. “Over the course of 16 years, we’ve been able to provide Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to thousands of families, alleviate some of the financial pressure for hundreds of students, and provide funds to help people get diagnosed and treated for Marfan. I never saw that intimate of an impact.”
THE PAIN: With each passing year, the loss of Tommy Tant is still a hardship for those who knew him. But it is through this pain that great things have happened, including nearly $20,000 toward the Marfan Foundation in the last three years alone and countless other scholarships Will Tant, his family, and hundreds of volunteers have helped make happen. “It speaks to the community outreach that this event is founded upon, since the community started the event,” Will said. “So to have that support 16 years later is a testimony to Flagler Beach, the larger surf community, as well as God’s grace and blessing over the event. My mother and I are alive today in part because of this event.” Each year the Marfan Foundation has a presence at the Memorial Classic, passing out literature, a spokeswoman who speaks during the auction on the foundation’s work, and engaging the community on awareness. Before the contest, Will announced that this year would be the last for the Tommy Tant, but the Flagler Beach community has stepped in and is already working on continuing this great cause.