Written by Don Tarrant/Eastern Lines — Every year as Labor Day nears a certain excitement begins to grow in locals all along the beach towns of the Jersey Shore. Summer brings much-needed income to local businesses, but it’s September and early October that gets most of us excited. Known as “Locals Summer,” it brings sunny, warm days, empty beaches, and more importantly good surf.
This year was no different. As the tropical Atlantic begins to come alive, surfers generally begin their day checking the National Hurricane Center website. Beginning around August 15th, it was Hurricane Harvey which made its way into the Gulf devastating Texas. Next up was Irma which seemed like it became a tropical storm just as it emerged from the African coast, quickly exploding into a Cat 5 hurricane with wind gusts over 200 mph at its max.
We watched as it very slowly made its way across the Atlantic, and I know for me my emotions swung from elation to fear on almost a daily basis. We all are dads or moms, sons or daughters, cousins, nieces or nephews, or know someone who is. And although we all yearn for great surf, I’m sure none of us would want it if it caused catastrophic results for someone else.
Unfortunately, that was the case this year. As we prepared for the 15th version of the Belmar Pro, we watched Irma just inch her way trying to decide where she was ultimately headed. By early in the week, we knew she would stay to the south, giving us powerful wind-generated groundswells while she went off like a small nuclear explosion across the Caribbean and ultimately into Florida. Of course we were all heartbroken to watch the incredible damage, but those large walls that swept into our beaches made us all remember why we were here: the 2017 Monster Belmar Invitational, with other main sponsors, Fins Mexicali Grill, Playa Bowls, and SRH.
Friday dawned with light offshore winds and large overhead and in some cases well overhead faces. The 36-man Fins Pro Open eliminations were scheduled for all day Friday and the competitors from all over the East Coast and California did not leave a drop to waste. Barrels by far were the rule of the day. Both lefts and rights, how long and deep in the tube could they get?
Saturday continued the barrage of overhead surf, maybe a bit smaller, but the wind still offshore. All the main events began, starting off with the Longboarders in high tide conditions. There were crazy, late takeoffs and yes, more barrels. Multiple Belmar Pro longboard winner Tony Silvagni put on a show seeming to see how late he could take off, punch it off the bottom before slowing his line and getting into yet another barrel. Other loggers Kevin Dewald, Chris Koerner, Keaton Fortney, and 2017 NJ State Champion James Contreras also put on a somewhat tension-filled show for the early beach arrivals.
The other divisions run on Saturday including the Playa Bowls Pro Women, Pro Jr Men, Masters, and SRH Legends. All throughout the day, both girls and guys, young and old, made fantastic turns, barrel after barrel and yes even a few airs! The semis and finals were set for Sunday, as all good things must come to an end, and yes Sunday brought NNE winds and a dying chest to head high swell, but great sunny blue skies prevailed.
Returning this year there was live music on the beach, both Saturday and Sunday and a very busy Vendor village. If the surf weren’t enough, there was plenty of fun and enjoyment to be found all over the venue. After what seemed at times like a never-ending succession of heats, the Final heats in all the divisions finally arrived. The Jr Pro was dominated by OCMD’s Simon Hetrick, while local rippers Jake DeMatteo, Pat Parenty, and Logan Kamen all took turns swacking the lip, finding a cover-up, or launching an air on any section that appeared between them.
The Longboard Pro was devoured again by multi-time winner Tony Silvagni from NC. 2nd to 4th were Kevin Dewald, Chris Koerner, and Jeff Byse. The Playa Bowls Women was taken again by last year’s winner, Cassidy McClain from Ventnor. Maria Barend from Rhode Island and Jess and Casey Kwiecinski rounded out the final four that had to tough it out in a highly contested Final.
The Masters featured old guys (sure!) that powered from wave to wave with phenomenal down the line speed and powerful turns. Finishing first to fourth were LBI’s Randy Townsend, local legend Brian Dalton, OB heavyweight Dallas Tolson, and the New Jersey Devil himself, Dean Randazzo.
The Legends (45+) was a heavily contested heat, featuring jostling, interferences and all around gamesmanship. 1st through 4th were Charlie VanderLindhe, another Belmar heavy hitter, Manasquan Legend, Scotty Duerr, former East Coast champ Joe Gillen and the 2017 NJ State Champion, Jack Murphy.
The Fins Men Pro Open finally arrived. After battling their way through 36 competitors in a double elimination format it came down to last year’s winner, Kevin Schulz from San Clemente and Rob Kelly from Ocean City, NJ. Rob has really been on a tear this year, barely losing out in the State Championships.
While Kevin brought speed and very smooth surfing and a few airs too, Rob completely destroyed every lip he could get near, and kept finding every little barrel available in the diminishing conditions. In the end it was Rob Kelly, with a check and a beautiful piece of art from a recycled surfboard by artist Ronnie Jackson.
Fins Mens Pro Open:
1 Rob Kelly 2 Kevin Schulz
Playa Bowls Pro Women:
1 Cassidy McClain 2 Maria Barend 3 Jess Kwiecinski 4 Casey Kwiecinski
1 Simon Hetrick 2 Jake DeMatteo 3 Pat Parenty 4 Logan Kamen
1 Randy Townsend 2 Brian Dalton 3 Dallas Tolson 4 Dean Randazzo
1 Charlie VanderLindhe 2 Scotty Duerr 3 Joe Gillen, Jack Murphy
1 Tony Silvagni 2 Kevin Dewald 3 Chris Koerner 4 Jeff Byse