TURF: 15th Annual Unsound Pro presented by SPY Optics; National Boulevard, Long Beach, NY; September 7th -8th, 2013
ENERGY: On day three of the waiting period, the contest was still on standby. First light revealed a little bump in the water smothered by an early high tide. But, as the tide dropped, a tiny wave began breaking over the middle bar between the jetties. By 3:00 p.m., there was a contestable wave, and the Unsound Pro was on. The contest trudged through six heats, and the exceptional gathered talent ripped despite lackluster conditions, causing many on the beach to reconsider what type of surf should really be deemed “worth it.” As dusk blanketed the beach, the occasional stomach-high wave popped up, and it seemed that Sunday, with favorable winds on the forecast, would bring fun conditions.
Throughout the weekend, 79-degree weather attracted babes and wholesome families alike to the beach, and everyone was smiling, except for the 160 groms competing next-door, who were stoked well beyond that. They were absolutely losing their minds. One jetty east of the Unsound Pro scaffolding, Skudin Surf Camp, run by NYSEA’s Cliff and Will Skudin, held a massive “King and Queen of the Beach” contest, which boasted a massive turnout and super-hyped atmosphere. The contest’s synchronization with the Unsound Pro gave the young’ns a chance to compete while watching the pros rip their local wave — it was pretty much every kid’s dream.
FIRST TIME AT FIGHT CLUB: This year, marquee surfer and 2010 Unsound Pro champ Balaram Stack hosted Balaram Stack’s Strong Island Air Show presented by Volcom. And with Long Beach native/recent ESM cover boy Will Skudin driving the skis alongside tow partner/North Shore big-wave legend Kealii Mamala, the fans were in for quite a show. It was a straightforward best trick contest, with a total of eight one-on-one heats, 15 minutes a pop. At the end of it all, the best trick would win $1000. But, as a nice little twist, the competitors would choose the winner.
“I thought of the idea while we were out in San Clemente,” Balaram explained. “Everyone threw down five bucks, and we grabbed the ski and went out. I thought it would be cool to do a contest like this at home, since you don’t really see too many air shows anymore.”
Bal himself, along with Jeremy Johnston, Blake Jones, Leif Engstrom, TJ Gumiela, Oliver Kurtz, Randy Townsend, Joe Parrino, Dylan Goodale, and Vince Boulanger all threw down, but during the very first heat — and on his first backhand attempt — last year’s Unsound Pro winner Blake Jones stomped a lofty air reverse that was eventually declared the winner.
THE SLIDE: After the air show concluded, the Unsound Pro wasted no time getting started on the main event. The 32-man bracket was scheduled to follow four-man, 20-minute heats, but from quarterfinals forward, it would be man-on-man. To say Saturday’s conditions were below par would be an understatement, especially since the Unsound Pro is known for catching ‘canes more times than not. But thanks to the perennially high level of talent, the air reverses kept flying regardless. “For us, the best thing is to give the surfers the best waves of the waiting period so the kids and everyone can watch a high level of surfing,” explained Unsound Surf Shop co-owner/contest organizer Mike Nelson.
And the level of surfing was definitely up to par. The strength of this year’s field became evident right out of the gate, when last year’s finalist, Gabe Kling, and Costa Rican ripper/Montauk frequenter Jairo Perez were both ousted in their round one heat thanks to a Rob Kelly frontside boost and the vicious forehand surfing of Randy Townsend. Then, to everyone’s delight, by Sunday morning, the conditions improved dramatically. The small windswell had grown into the chest-high range, and with the winds blowing from the WNW, the goofyfooters were licking their chops at all the ramps on offer.
By the time the four-man skirmishes ceased fire, only eight competitors were left standing. With the winds shifting north, Ryan Briggs knocked out fellow Sunrise Surf Shop teamrider Evan Thompson with a big backhand crack and a fin-flashing reverse on the end section for a solid 7-point ride. Then Blake Jones grounded Leif Engstrom’s aerial assault with smooth backhand surfing and a calculated priority game. After the heat, Jones explained, “It’s always scary going up against Leif. It really depends on who is going to get the waves. But when it’s man-on-man, I just try to go out, be a little more patient, and surf the waves to their full potential.” Next, Virginia Beach’s Michael Dunphy disappointed Ocean City’s poised and in-form Vince Boulanger, hacking a jetty left to pieces and earning an 8.9 — the highest wave score of the contest — to take a come-from-behind win. New Jersey’s Rob Kelly, the only goofyfooter to advance into the semis, continued throwing air reverses and powerful frontside hacks, shocking Jacksonville’s Tristan Thompson.
At the start of the 25-minute semis, Blake Jones looked as if he was might join New Smyrna Beach legend Jeremy Johnston in the New York record books as the second person to win back-to-back Unsound Pro titles. But a red-hot Ryan Briggs — fresh off a semi-final finish at the ECSC and a quarters finish at the Outer Banks Pro — decided to write a different story. Stomping a mid-round shuvit, easily the most radical maneuver of the tournament, he took the lead with an 8.6 then built on that momentum, coasting into the finals and dropping the highest heat total of this year’s Unsound Pro, a 16.1.
With only one spot left on the ship, Michael Dunphy and Rob Kelly slugged it out. 16 minutes from the end of the heat, Rob caught a nice left off the middle bar, laidback into the first hit, came out with a lot of speed, floated a section, and finished the wave with an air reverse for an 8.03. But the ASP-tested Dunphy came right back with an 8.53 set wave off the jetty, hitting the lip five times. Still, Kelly’s 15.1 score bettered Dunphy’s 14.86 as the seconds ticked away. Knowing a 6.58 would send him packing, Rob played defense, and using his priority wisely, he made his way to the finals.
Competitive fervor pulsed hard this year despite a substantially smaller prize purse, so, even though he secured a $625 payday for his efforts, Dunphy was unsatisfied with bowing out in the semifinals “I flew in last night, and I always want to come to this event,” he said. “It’s always a sick event. But I wanted to f*$&@!^ win.”
After a short recess, it was time for the finals. Long lulls slowed the pace of the 30-minute finale, bringing strategy heavily into play. Ryan Briggs held the jetty, while Rob Kelly focused on the middle bar. “The tide dropped quicker than I thought,” Kelly said. “The way Ryan was surfing, I knew I needed to pull an air to beat him.” But after a consistently powerful event, Rob was unable to find his rhythm. Meanwhile, Briggs surfed smooth, sending spray skyward on his backhand, picking lefts off the jetty one after another. With a 6.83 and 6.9, Ryan Briggs took down the 15th Annual Unsound Pro presented by Spy Optics. “It feels amazing,” he said, grinning from ear to ear and soaked in brew. “One of the biggest wins I’ve ever had.”
THE PAIN: Round 2 saw perhaps one of the most interesting match-ups of the tournament: Balaram Stack versus Leif Engstrom, eventual champ Ryan Briggs, and veteran Jeff Myers. But when the horn sounded, only three surfers sat in the lineup. Stack was scratched from the competition due to a reported knee injury sometime the night before. Leif took 1st and Briggs 2nd, but if Stack competed… who knows? It would have been epic to see Long Island’s two premier surfers, each from opposite ends of the Island, throwing down in perfectly rampy, small-wave conditions.
THE MAN: This one’s a no brainer: Mike Nelson, Dave Juan, and the town of Long Beach. For many coastal communities in New York, this year has been hell. After Sandy, life was simplified to the basic necessities: heat, shelter, and a livelihood. But less than four months after Unsound Surf Shop reopened, the contest tents were back up on National Boulevard, and the community was out in full force to support the Unsound Pro.
“The Unsound Pro is super important,” Long Beach High School surf coaches Anthony Balsamo and Rachel Bobis agreed. “Every year, it gives kids the opportunity to watch the competitive aspect on a professional level.” But just as Long Beach’s surfing community values the Unsound Pro, the surfing community is vitally important to Unsound. “We’re really lucky to have such a strong and loyal customer base,” said shop co-owner Dave Juan. “After the shop opened, we began thinking about the tournament, “ added Mike Nelson. “…We knew it was going to happen, we just needed to figure out the level.” And this year, Mike, Dave and the Long Beach surfing community really demonstrated what it means to be a surfer in New York: a relentless dedication, and an indestructible stoke.
Last but not least, big ups also go out to contest director Rick Anthony. The dude is super stoked about surfing, and it really shows. He’s the first one there in the morning and the last one to leave at night.
YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB: “I’m always happy to be here. Mike and Dave are great hosts, and they’re always doing special things for the community.” –2001 Unsound Pro champ Randy Townsend
“He’s weaving like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” –Contest emcee Tyler Breuer
“This board was a little shorter, wider, easier to get speed on. It was perfect for small summer waves. I creased the nose on that last air reverse though. Marcio Zouvi of Sharp Eye out in San Diego has been making great boards for me.” –2013 finalist Rob Kelly
“Having really good boards is key. Matt Biolos is making me the best boards I’ve ever had.” –2013 event champ Ryan Briggs
“The Unsound Pro is sick, as usual. I’m just happy to be here and have a chance to try and beat these guys.” –Unsound teamrider Joe Parrino
FINAL RESULTS OF THE 15TH ANNUAL UNSOUND PRO:
1. Ryan Briggs
2. Rob Kelly
3. Blake Jones
3. Michael Dunphy
5. Tristan Thompson
5. Evan Thompson
5. Leif Engstrom
5. Vince Boulanger
SKUDIN SURF CAMP KING OF THE BEACH
SKUDIN SURF CAMP QUEEN OF THE BEACH