If you grew up surfing in New Jersey it was impossible to not hear stories of the Grog’s Seaside Pro. It was part of the budding International Professional Surfers tour back in the mid-thigh-length shorts days when “professional” and “surfer” were still opposing concepts. But the best in the world came through New Jersey in the late ‘70s, from Michael and Derek Ho to Cheyne Horan to Shaun Tomson to Rabbit Bartholomew. And Buttons Kaluhiokalani was among them.
“I went out there with Reno Abellira and Mark Lidell,” Buttons remembers. “It was hot and humid. The waves were only two-foot, but we had fun the whole time.” Part of that fun was a visit to Rainbow Rapids Water Slides, the wet and wild amusement park on Grant Ave. just inland from Casino Pier. “They told us not to stand up on the mats, so we broke all the rules in the first hour,” Buttons laughs. “But the owner guy was pretty cool.”
And now, some 35 years later, Buttons is returning. And so are Lidell and Abellira, all to compete in the newly formed Belmar Masters Pro. In fact, once again, surfers from all over this hemisphere are Belmar-bound right now, for the Foster’s Belmar Pro, the Hannah Womens Pro, and the ASP-sanctioned Fins Pro Junior and 8Eighty Longboard Pro.
Whereas most pro contests are just a focus on 19 to 25-year-old dudes, this is going to bring together everyone from the hot doggers to Generation Now to reigning World Longboard Champ Taylor Jensen to returning Women’s winner and local girl Jess Kwiecinski to 2004 Belmar Pro Champ Bryan Hewitson to a bunch of guys old enough to be their… let’s say great uncles.
The 35-and-older Masters division should prove to be a hell of a draw. Not only do you have guys who helped to pioneer tailsliding and 360s back in Hawaii in the 1970s, but you have guys like Dean Randazzo, who put up a perfect 10 earlier this summer at the ISA World Masters Surfing Championships, and Matt Keenan, a spring chicken at age 37, who has made the finals of the Belmar Pro twice in the last ten years. But don’t count out East Coast legends like Florida surf/skate legend Tab Textor and Scotty Duerr from right down the road in Manasquan. Like the Hawaiians, just because they have their own place in history doesn’t mean they stop shredding.
For the past few years, the ASP 1-Star Fins Pro Junior has been a staple for East Coast kids considering a future in pro surfing. It’s attracted some top Californians as well, like Parker Coffin, who won last year on the same day older brother Conner surfed the Hurley Lowers Pro as a trials winner. And that means all sorts of young new talent in the pro as well. Why not surf both?
This year, the 8Eighty Longboard Pro will also be sanctioned by the ASP — a very rare chance for North American loggers to gain points toward the World Longboard Tour. Tony Silvagni has three victories here and it will be very interesting to see if he can hold on with the international field coming out.
The Hannah Women’s Pro saw a nice bump in talent in 2011 and most of those hungry females are coming back for a piece of the action, including Southern sharpshooters like Nikki Viesins and Darsha Pigford. In addition to last year’s champ, Kwiecinski, you’ve got a few young ladies from South Jersey like Maddie Peterson and Cassidy McClain who can finish a turn. And you can never count out three-time winner Jamie DeWitt, who’s residing in Florida these days.
Then of course there’s the Men’s Pro, the 80-surfer throwdown that draws surfers from far and wide. It’s up to last year’s unlikely champ, major sponsor-less Vince Boulanger, who has been painting houses all summer to make his travel money. He’ll have to fight off Aaron Cormican, who wasn’t there last year, as well as Cam Richards, Sam Hammer, 2010 champ Michael Dunphy, who just finished better than any Rightsider at the ECSC, and a host of other dudes who’ve been boning up in Hurricane Leslie swell all week.
Rainbow Rapids is long gone. It’s now called Breakwater Beach and much less exciting. But you have to imagine there will be enough fun trouble in Belmar to keep everyone occupied.
For heat draws, schedules, and live webcast starting this weekend, visit www.BelmarPro.com