TURF: Unsound Right Coast Cup Presented By Quiksilver; National Blvd., Long Beach, NY; September 6th-7th, 2012.
ENERGY: Early September is hands down the surest bet for waves on the East Coast. Case in point: if you rocked up to Long Beach, NY, last week for Unsound and Quiksilver’s Right Coast Cup, basically the latest iteration in the decade-plus Unsound Pro legacy, you’d be forgiven for thinking Hurricane Leslie’s long-period groundswell was nearly identical to Hurricane Katia’s offerings for the Quiksilver Pro New York last year. Maybe a hair smaller and a tad less perfect, but with those lefts still reeling off of National Blvd.’s jetty, everyone in the water was still laying it down with style and explosiveness.
FIRST TIME AT FIGHT CLUB: The biggest difference for 2012, of course, came on land. No hordes of frothing surf fans descending from the LIRR to see the ASP Top 34. No sports-crazed New Yorkers debating the ins and outs of Kelly Slater’s heat strategy over coffee at Beach Bagel & Deli. No massive Quiksilver retail store, no packed-to-the-gills Allegria Hotel, and no mile-long sponsor tent/athlete area setup.
And guess what? That didn’t seem to bother anybody one bit. Unsound Surf Shop co-owners Mike Nelson and Dave Juan both said they wanted the contest to represent a return to the event’s roots, meaning a competitor-first atmosphere. And nothing achieved that better than the Right Coast Cup’s innovative format. A combination of Quiksilver’s traditional skins structure, where each surfer is required to claim what they think is their best wave, and the straightforward top-two-scores-count deal, the Right Coast Cup awarded progressive amounts of money for a skins win in each round: $300 for Round One, $500 for Round Two, $600 for the Round of 16, $700 for the quarterfinals, $900 for the semifinals, and $2,000 for the final.
SLIDE: With that much money on the line, it was only inevitable that Rightside competitive vets like Jeremy Johnston, Gabe Kling, Blake Jones, and Balaram Stack would show up. Gabe and Bal are the only two surfers who contested the Quik Pro New York last, while JJ is a past Unsound Pro winner and Blake has been making a big jersey-clad push this summer. Add Mid-Atlantic/Northeast heat-seeking regulars like Vince Boulanger, Rob Kelly, Clay Pollioni, Leif Engstrom, Randy Townsend, Zack Humphreys, Travis Beckmann, Andrew Gesler, TJ Gumiela, Conor Willem, Royce Weber, and PJ Raia to the mix, and you had yourself about the most stacked and diverse East Coast contest possible.
But what made this year’s Right Coast Cup draw even more interesting was the local New York heroes, fast-rising groms, and out-of-town Big Apple lovers who also signed up. Californian Killian Garland joined Hawaiian Dylan Goodale on the trek over, and described his time surfing North Carolina and New Jersey during Hurricane Leslie as a “good change” from his Santa Barbara home. “I really like it over here,” Garland added. “I’ve gotten some great waves in the Outer Banks and in New York, I stayed with Billy Hume and his parents, which was great… After the Bud Light Lime [in Nags Head], it was small in California, so I figured, ‘What’s the point of going home?’”
On the grom side of things, teenagers like Tanner Strohmenger, Pat Schmidt, Nathan Behl, Haze and Hunter Rainis, Noah Wilson, Corey Stanton, Jairo Perez, and Liam O’Regan represented everywhere from South Florida to New Jersey to New York to Rhode Island to Costa Rica. Big Apple transplants like Will Tant and Gabriel Canals also gave the Right Coast Cup a go, but the coolest thing was seeing longtime Empire State loc’dogs like Trip Patterson, Alex Fawess, Joe Parrino, Ollie Favata, Tom Gleason, Pete Pichichero, Kurt Rist, Steve Patsis, Richie Bogart, Adam Dufner, and Sean Dublyn get a chance to win some solid cash close to home. “This is the only contest we get to do on our home turf,” Trip Patterson said. “And for those of us who don’t get the privilege of traveling, watching guys like Gabe and Blake rip our waves and take them seriously reminds us that we are on the map.”
And rip Gabe and Blake did, meeting up in the Right Coast Cup final less than a week after finding themselves in the same battle at the Bud Light Lime Outer Banks Cup. Although Gabe looked unstoppable coming in to the heat, packing the most potent backside power attack of the entire 64-man draw, Blake still somehow edged him out in the last 30-minute exchange of the contest by employing a similarly no-nonsense approach: drop in, build speed, bash the hell of the lip, repeat. “I was scared to death every time Gabe dropped in to a left,” Jones said after collecting his $4,500 check for winning five of six available skins. “But I liked the momentum you could build here; you could get 2nd and still redeem yourself by going on to win another skin.”
Although Kling and Jones dominated the back end of the proceedings, other standouts stamped their mark on the Right Coast Cup’s earlier rounds. Jeremy Johnston relied on his flashy frontside slash/layback combo to win every heat until he met Gabe in the semis; Vince Boulanger pulled off a similar goofyfoot feat until he too lost out to Kling in the quarters; and Leif Engstrom, Balaram Stack, Rob Kelly, and Clay Pollioni — oddly enough, all goofyfooters themselves — rode loose, explosive attacks to late-round runs.
Other than Kling and Jones, the other regularfooter to really bring the heat was South Florida’s Tanner Strohmenger, whose lethal backhand blowtails nearly toppled Blake in the quarterfinals. Everyone on the beach was raving about Strohmenger’s newfound confidence, maturity, and heat smarts; seasoned workhorses like Jeremy Johnston were even spotted giving the promising young pro tips like, “Next time you’re in that situation, don’t hop — just go rail to rail.”
THE PAIN: You might think Gabe Kling would be bummed to lose to Blake Jones mere days after beating him in the Outer Banks. But the always-magnanimous new dad, former ASP World Tour grueler, and owner of the Right Coast Cup’s highest wave score had nothing but good words for Blake, the contest, and his own surfing career as he stares down the changes that face every pro surfer as he enters his 30. “This format is different, which is cool,” Gabe said. “At the King Of The Peak, you have to pick your score, and you always feel like you could do better. But here, the incentive is to win your heat, which brings out better surfing. Blake and I have been staying and traveling together since ECSC, so I'm actually stoked he got me back. I told him I’m going to give him a green hat to wear when we paddle out together because he’s my lucky charm.”
THE MAN: While Blake Jones definitely deserves The Man honors for winning the biggest pro event of his career, runner-up awards must go to A) the Right Coast Cup format, B) Mike Nelson and Dave Juan from Unsound for organizing this event, C) Darren Brillhart, Rick Anthony, and the rest of the contest staff for running the show on the beach, and D) Long Beach and its surrounding New York surf communities, which have both benefitted from and contributed directly to the success of recent events in the area. As NYNJSurf.com webmaster and tuned-in guy Will Hallett explained, the next generation of Empire State surfing is looking damn strong — don't be surprised if New York continues to muscle in on the East Coast's dominant Florida-North Carolina-New Jersey trifecta.
YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB: “I haven’t done well in anything in a while, but Gabe told me to switch it up, so I started riding an older board. Plus doing well in the Outer Banks against a lot of good guys helped me build confidence. I’m doing the Bud Light Lime Expression Session at the Hurley Pro next, then going straight to Bali for the Oakley Surf Shop Challenge National Championships after that. I’m so psyched… pretty speechless about everything right now.” –Right Coast Cup winner Blake Jones on this summer’s crazy confluence of positive vibes
“Whenever you surf an event, if you win that first heat and you like that board, you can start steamrolling. For me, a lot of it is about what’s in my head.” –Right Coast Cup runner-up Gabe Kling on the importance of momentum
“Gabe smoked me in the quarterfinal. But I love this format, because it paid for my gas and allowed me to make a little money. I wish more events would do this. I’m trying hard to find a sponsor; I had a good year last year and thought I’d get some help but didn’t. I definitely like doing these contests, but I want to take them to a higher level. Maybe the full WQS.” –Maryland kingpin Vince Boulanger, who lost to Gabe Kling in the quarterfinals
“I didn’t feel nearly as much pressure as last year. It’s good to see all these guys having a good time in my hometown, just surfing without it being a big deal. And I’m psyched to have waves.” –Semifinalist, hometown hero, and newly christened legal drinker Balaram Stack
“This contest is great for the way I surf, and I love getting rewarded for pushing it. I also love surfing with or against Balaram... although once he threw up that slob air I got shook. At least I didn’t have the lowest scores of my round.” –Explosive New Jersey pro Clay Pollioni, who fell to Balaram Stack in the Round of 16 but owned the post-event freesurf
“I find that I usually do well when the waves are good. It sucks to only make the quarters, but the format allows you to win some cash while getting an equal chance to battle and have fun in the water with your friends. It makes it more interesting because every guy wants to win — that’s why I was trying airs on every wave. I wouldn’t have done that if I was just trying to advance.” –Right Coast Cup Semifinalist and past Unsound Pro champion Jeremy Johnston
“We were originally going to do the skins format, but with good waves we wanted to allow the guys to surf. Mike [Nelson] also wanted to do something unique, so we combined skins with the more traditional format to make things more competitor-friendly, let the guys surf man-on-man, but still give them the chance to collect some money.” –Contest director and industry veteran Darren “Brillo” Brillhart
“Between Quiksilver, Unsound, and the town of Long Beach, they did so much to make this contest a success. And I think that’s a direct reaction to last September, when they saw such potential. We’re so stoked to have the ASF contest running here too. When does an amateur event have a setup like this?” –Right Coast Cup beach marshal/ASF-New York Chapter Director Rick Anthony on the overall vibe of the event
FINAL RESULTS OF THE UNSOUND RIGHT COAST CUP PRESENTED BY QUIKSILVER:
1. Blake Jones, $4,500
2. Gabe Kling, $3,000
3. Jeremy Johnston, $2,100
4. Balaram Stack, $1,800
5. Vince Boulanger, Tanner Strohmenger, $1,400
7. Killian Garland, $1,100
8. Leif Engstrom, $900
9. Rob Kelly, $800
10. Zack Humphreys, $50011. Clay Pollioni, Trip Patterson, Kurt Rist, PJ Raia, Nathan Behl, $300