• subtitle: Hurricane Sandy Brings Perfect Combination Of Conditions, Competitors, And Charity To 2012 Slater Brothers Invitational

Written by  Allison Arteaga
Wednesday, 10/31/12

TURF: The 2012 Slater Brothers Invitational; Coconuts On The Beach, Cocoa Beach, FL; October 26th-28th, 2012

ENERGY: With the contest fast approaching, all eyes were glued to the radar maps, buoy readings, and swell charts, as Hurricane Sandy began her legendary trek up the East Coast. Beachside residents everywhere from Florida to Maine watched with nervous anticipation while “superstorm” rumors swirled and hype and speculation abounded. It was too soon to say exactly the sort of impact that Sandy would have, especially as she set a course for New England, but for Central Florida surfers, one thing was obvious: this storm would either make or break the Slater Brothers Invitational. The real question was: which way would things go?

FIRST TIME AT FIGHT CLUB: Event organizers had never dealt with this sort of scenario before, and at first, things weren’t looking good. Dark skies, pouring rain, and howling onshore winds tore through the area on Friday the 26th — the first day of the contest’s scheduled run period — forcing many local schools and businesses to close. The ocean was a giant, snarling mess, angry and completely impenetrable as it gnawed its way through the dunes. No one would be surfing that day. There were even doubts that the Pepper concert scheduled for that night at Coconuts On The Beach would happen, but luckily, the restaurant’s deck area provided just enough cover, and those brave fans who did show up were rewarded with a great show and the chance to meet Cocoa Beach’s famous Slater Brothers, including Stephen “Skippy” Slater, Sean Slater, and 11-time World Champion Kelly Slater.

By the next day, the worst had passed, but the storm was still lingering. When event co-founder Sean Slater went to check on conditions at the contest site Saturday morning, the waves were huge and finally starting to shape up a bit, but it was still largely unmanageable. Strong onshore winds were a force to be reckoned with, and the tide pushed water all the way up under the contest scaffolding. Sean made the call to postpone the contest another day while Kelly, who admittedly has a phobia of missing out on good waves, bailed after hearing that all the big-name breaks in South Florida were going off. If The Slater Brothers Invitational were still going to happen at all, three days of surfing would have to be condensed into one final day. Nothing else could go wrong. The Slater brothers needed a miracle. And luckily, they were about to get one.

SLIDE: From first light on Sunday morning, it was immediately clear just how much things had turned around. The sun was shining, the skies were a bright shade of blue, and the troublesome wind of the past few days had transformed into a perfect offshore breeze. But that wasn’t even the best part. Not by a long shot. Any spectator who drove up A1A to the contest site that morning and happened to cast a glance seaward could tell you that. Clearly visible over top of the tall sea oat plants that usually block the ocean from view, impossibly big, perfect waves reeled down the line left and right in glassy walls of olive-green, feathering in the breeze as they went. Rolling up to the actual contest site was an even more surreal experience. The sandbars out behind Coconuts On The Beach held the size perfectly, and spectators crammed into the restaurant’s patio bar and dotted the sand between rows of tents, a tiki-lined entryway, and the towering scaffolding. Meanwhile, big-time East Coast names like CJ Hobgood, Dean Randazzo, Brian Hewitson, Todd Holland, Kyle Garson, and CT Taylor, among many others, matched their A-games against the day’s flawless conditions, hunting down barrel sections and throwing huge turns in the pocket on thumping waves that were several feet overhead. Meanwhile, internationally renowned longboarders like Justin Quintal and Tony Silvagni picked off bombs way on the outside and dropped straight into nose rides that seemed to last an eternity.

The whole scene looked like the sort of thing you’d watch on your computer screen as it happened half a world away, but each breath of salt air was a reminder to everyone on the beach that what they were witnessing was, in fact, happening right then and there in their own backyard. There was no doubt about it, the 2012 Slater Brothers Invitational was about to go down in history as one of Florida’s most incredible contests. “This is the best surf I’ve ever seen in Cocoa Beach for an event, hands down,” said contest judge Gordon Lawson, a shaper, coach, and respected Sebastian Inlet fixture. Fellow judge and former WQS competitor Jeremy Saukel couldn’t have agreed more. “You have the best guys on the East Coast out there, and the waves are pretty much the best that I’ve ever seen from Cocoa Beach in my life.” The level of competitive surfing all around was phenomenal, but there were still a few clear standouts on the shortboard side of things. Kyle Garson, Blake Jones, and Chris Duff really had the lineup figured out and smoked everyone in their early round heats by picking off all the best waves and tearing them apart, start to finish. Meanwhile, CT Taylor, Brian Hewitson, and Todd Holland impressed with tight powersurfing in the pocket, and the grom contingent of Corey Howell and Sam Duggan showed they had the right stuff to hang with the pros.

But there’s no denying that, throughout the event, the competitor who commanded the most attention was CJ Hobgood, the Satellite Beach, FL, native who is currently ranked in the top-15 on the ASP’s World Tour. For CJ, the low-key atmosphere of the Slater Brothers Invitational was a great change of pace from the tour. “The waves were really good, so it was fun going out there and surfing,” he said “I was paddling around and thinking, ‘You know, it feels good to make heats.’ When you’re on the World Tour, sometimes you can go months without making heats, so it does feel good to come back to an event like this.” CJ really pulled out all the stops in his semifinals matchup against Todd Holland, Blake Jones, and Chris Tucker, giving everyone on the beach an up-close-and-personal view of what slashing WCT turns really look like. And to the delight of the crowd, he even managed to find a nice backside barrel section that earned him a perfect 10. That pretty much wrapped up the heat, and CJ moved on to the finals, where he faced Brian Hewitson, Chris Duff, and Blake Jones, the runner-up from his semifinal heat. As the starting horn blew, CJ staked out a spot to the south and picked off big righthanders, linking aggressive, critical turns with cover-ups and massive, high-risk floaters. Meanwhile, Brian Hewitson logged a big score near the beginning of the heat for stringing together a nice combination of backhand slashes, but then, sitting far to the north of everyone else and still needing another big score, he found himself just out of position for several sets as the clock wound down and got a bit frustrated, splashing water around out the back. Blake Jones and Chris Duff both had great efforts in the finals as well, but by the time the heat drew to a close, CJ was the clear victor.

The action on the longboard side of things was equally intense. With offshore winds holding the waves back ever so slightly, it was perfect longboarding conditions. The East Coast’s finest charged fearlessly, drawing bold lines across an oversized canvass and really getting a chance to demonstrate the full extent of their talents. Grom superstars like Steven McLean and Fisher Grant were in form, with Fisher even making it through to the Semifinals. Skippy Slater made a big impression, throwing down some massive turns and picking off bombs, all without a leash. But it came back to bite him in the semifinals, when he lost his board and had to paddle in after it, forfeiting valuable time. In the finals, it came down to Corpus Christi, TX’s, Corey Williams, Florida’s Patrick Nichols and Justin Quintal, and North Carolina’s Tony Silvagni. Nichols had been on fire all contest, picking off big set waves, throwing down some of the longest, most technical noserides, cranking turns and floaters, and even finding a few mini coverups. But even though he and Corey Williams fought hard in the finals, it all came down to a battle between Tony Silvagni and Justin Quintal.

The two revered pros had faced each other many times, with Justin consistently coming out on top, but both were in peak form, trading wave for wave and pulling out every trick in the bag. They picked off the biggest sets from way outside and styled all the way in, with late drops on the nose, hang tens, hang heels, helicopters, floaters, carving cutties in the pocket, and whatever else they could think of to one-up each other. Spectators were transfixed, their appreciation for the sport of modern longboarding growing with each passing second. The guys certainly put on a great show, but in the end, Justin Quintal took the grand prize once again, and Tony, always a gracious and good-spirited runner-up, gave Justin a celebratory beer drenching. “You couldn’t have asked for much better conditions,” said a still-dripping Quintal after the awards ceremony. “Everyone was surfing amazing, and it was really close. I wasn’t sure who was going to win. I felt like I surfed good, but I felt like everyone else surfed really good too.”

THE PAIN: As well as things turned out — especially considering the challenges the contest faced at the beginning — there were also a few unfortunate events at this year’s contest. Obviously, some people who drove in to town to watch the contest may have been disappointed that Kelly Slater didn’t show up to surf his heats, but more importantly, there were a few injuries courtesy of the sizeable surf. Cocoa Beach up-and-comer Lea Taylor went down while surfing a heat of the event’s associated Surf/Skate Scramble and had to be driven off the beach by lifeguards then taken to the hospital. And just moments before, in the Shortboard Pro finals, CJ Hobgood hurt himself on the last wave of his heat when he tried to pull a big floater over an oncoming close-out section but went down instead. CJ tried to just shake it off and paddle back out, but he was obviously in pain, so with the clock winding down and a solid lead under his belt, he elected to just come in, making his way up the beach with a slight limp. “I hurt my foot,” CJ explained after the contest. “I’m kind of rattled right now. I’ve never hurt this foot, but it feels like ligaments. Injuries are so weird though. It could be fine in two days, or it could be two months. You just never know.”

The injury came with unfortunate timing, as the World Tour is now drawing to a close. The waiting period of the O’Neill Coldwater Classic in Santa Cruz, CA, is scheduled to begin in a few days on November 1st, and the tour’s final event, The Billabong Pipe Masters in Oahu, HI, is scheduled for December 8th-20th. Since CJ is currently ranked 14th, even if he’s unable to compete in one or both of the remaining events, he should easily re-qualify for the World Tour next year, though a slide in the rankings would forfeit his chances to secure his best season-end rankings result since 2009. Nonetheless, CJ, the eternal optimist, kept things in perspective. “The good news is, I’ll be back no matter what,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, but everything happens for a reason. Maybe God wanted me to spend a little more time with my kids or maybe get a little hungrier before I went to Hawaii.” ESM sends our best wishes out to CJ and his family as well as to Lea Taylor. We’re hoping they’ll have quick, easy recoveries and be back out in the water in no time.

THE MAN: Despite the injuries and the challenges with the weather, the overall impact of the contest was overwhelmingly positive. Skippy and Sean Slater were both relieved when Mother Nature finally cut them a break, and the day’s perfect conditions seemed to make all their hard work worthwhile. “I’m just happy that we’re running the contest and everyone is having fun,” Sean said. “There are smiles all over the place.” But the Slater brothers also had a deeper goal beyond putting out feel-good vibes and hosting an amazing contest. Skippy explained that the real purpose of the event is to raise money for the World Skin Cancer Foundation and to draw a crowd to the beach, where everyone can take advantage of free, on-site skin cancer screenings. “People who would otherwise not have gone to a doctor can get a free screening, and we’ve found a lot of people who have melanomas,” he said. “It saves their lives.”

“Every year we find at least 4 melanomas with our skin cancer screenings, so I’d say we’ve saved about 50 to 70 lives, which is great,” Sean added. In fact, this year, dermatologists on hand for the event found exactly four melanomas, 14 basal cell carcinomas, 18 squamous cell carcinomas, and 53 precancerous lesions. Not bad for a day’s work. “All of us are going to be threatened with skin cancer at one point of another, so you have to take care of yourself,” Sean said. “We’re promoting fun in the sun, but you can do it safely.” For all their hard work and dedication to throwing a great community contest, spreading the word on sun protection, raising money for the World Skin Cancer foundation, and saving lives through free skin cancer screenings, Sean, Skippy, and Kelly Slater definitely deserve a big congratulations. So thanks, guys.

YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB: “It’s pretty epic conditions. It’s as good as it will ever be.” —Event judge and former WQS charger Jeremy Saukel

“I think it’s cool that they put together the skin cancer screenings for free, and just to see all the Slater brothers in one place and all the people in Cocoa Beach supporting it is awesome. It’s one of the coolest events in Cocoa Beach for sure.” —Event judge, shaper, coach, and Sebastian Inlet fixture Gordon Lawson

“It’s normally a three-day event, but everything is working out pretty well. It’s a no-stress contest anyhow. It’s just supposed to be fun and bring everyone out.” —Event Co-Founder Stephen “Skippy” Slater



1. Justin Quintal

2. Tony Silvagni

3. Patrick Nichols

4. Corey Williams


1. CJ Hobgood

2. Brian Hewitson

3. Chris Duff

4. Blake Jones


1. Bob Umbel

2. Bobo Cogswell

3. Mike Duffield

4. Mike Rogers


1. Noah Dovin

2. Josh Forsberg

3. Adam Tyler

4. Elijah Allred



1. Mike Rogers

2. Dave Headson

3. Brian Bachelor


SKATE 13-15

1. Chris Kozma

2. Ryan Gilbert


1. Stone Denning

2. Max Pacensa



1. Chyanne Reese

2. Grace Marhoefer

3. Megan Guy

4. Emily Headson



1. Clint Beswick

2. Sam Rooks

3. Brian "Yoda" Upapong

4. Dakota Hunt


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