• subtitle: 13th Annual Tommy Tant Memorial Classic Brings Happiness And Healing To Flagler Beach Surf Community

Written by  Allison Arteaga
Monday, 11/26/12

TURF: 13th Annual Tommy Tant Memorial Classic; Flagler Beach Pier, Flagler Beach, FL; November 17th-18th, 2012

ENERGY: It was cold and windy on the weekend of the Tommy Tant Memorial Classic, but that didn’t stop supporters from Flagler Beach and beyond, who bundled up and came out in droves for a weekend of fun, starting with a food festival, concerts by Dark Horse Saloon and Le BLORR, and the Red Bull Night Riders tow-at surf contest, and continuing throughout the weekend with auctions, the Memorial Classic surf contest, and art exhibits by local students. “You could just feel the support coming from the community and the spectators and the volunteers,” said event organizer Will Tant. “The community spirit is really strong, and it’s kind of the cornerstone of this event.”

Will and his family have been running the Tommy Tant Memorial Classic for the past 13 years in honor of Will’s older brother, Tommy, a longtime surfer who passed away from a Marfan Syndrome-related aortic aneurism at the age of 24. All proceeds from the event are donated to local food banks, the National Marfan Foundation, and the Tommy Tant Memorial Scholarship Fund, which awarded 14 scholarships to worthy kids this year. “I think it really just reflects my brother’s spirit and the way he always helped people,” Will said of the event’s charitable nature. “He would go out of his way to find an opportunity to help others.”

There was also a booth with literature about Marfan Syndrome at this year’s event. A disorder of the connective tissue, Marfan Syndrome is characterized by a long, thin body type, curvature of the spine, extreme flexibility, eye problems, and other symptoms, but the real life-threatening problems of the disorder occur in the heart. “Only one in 5,000 people are affected by this condition, so it’s not that common, but it’s very deadly if you don’t know you have it,” Tant said. “Through this event, we found out that me and my mother actually both have the same condition.” There is no cure for Marfan Syndrome, but if diagnosed, it can be treated with medications and surgery to reduce the dangers.

Overall, the Tommy Tant Memorial Classic aims to simply celebrate Tommy’s memory and his important place in the community, and his personality definitely shined through at this year’s event. “My brother was like lots of other surfers in that he loved being outside with friends and living an active lifestyle,” Will said. “That’s what he enjoyed, and we hope the event reflects that. It’s actually a rare thing that we really take a weekend to celebrate surfing and being outside and friends and family and just enjoying each other’s company.”

FIRST TIME AT FIGHT CLUB: Over the past 12 years, the Tommy Tant Memorial Classic has become a well-oiled machine, and most of the same action-packed events carry over from one year to the next. But the event has also continued to grow, and this year’s edition was one of the biggest yet. “I think we had the most people entered in the Men’s Pro division that we’ve ever had,” Will said. There were 300 people entered in the event’s 11 amatuer divisions, and Tant also noted that the level of competition seemed to be at an all-time high. “It’s just a reflection of how the level of surfing expected in a contest has risen, and I’m glad that’s showing in our event too.”

SLIDE: The weekend's first winners were declared on the night of Saturday, November 17th, with the Red Bull Night Riders tow-at contest. The Flagler Beach Pier was lit up like daylight as six of the Southeast’s top surfers went all out for a chance at $5,000. In the end, Jacksonville’s Evan Thompson beat out Blake Jones, Oliver Kurtz, Jake McGuire, Brandon Hoffman, and Jesse Heilman for the title.

On the non-nocturnal side of competition, conditions were challenging for pros and amateurs alike throughout the weekend during the Tommy Tant Memorial Classic. “The current was really drifting down the beach, but at high tide, there were some well-overhead ones out there,” Tant said, “and I think the best surfers utilized that size to show off their skills.” Daytona Beach’s Jesse Heilman, who competes in the event just about every year, was one surfer who used the conditions to his advantage, and it ended up earning him the win in the Men’s Pro division. “I’ve been out there on a thousand days that looked just like that, so I kind of knew which waves to take,” Heilman said. “And had this event not been on, I probably still would have been out there surfing anyways. It was a bit of a triathlon with all the swimming, running, and paddling up the beach, but that just sort of added to the event.”

Saint Augustine’s Rossi Klein continued her recent winning streak with a victory in the Women’s Pro division, while Ormond Beach’s Eros Exarhou took down the Junior Pro, and Haley Watson, Lily Whatley, Jay Smith, Robbie McCormick, Cierra Cunningham, Chase Elmore, Cobie Gittner, Steven Tyson, Benji Lange, Jimmy Blumenfeld, and Dylan Martin all rode to victory in the amateur divisions.

While all the winners certainly deserve congratulations for coming out on top in such tricky conditions, Men’s Pro winner Jesse Heilman reminded us all that the Tommy Tant Memorial Classic really isn’t about winning or losing. “When you enter the event, you’re really just signing up for a fun, great weekend,” he said. “Winning is really just icing on the cake. This event is something I look forward to every year, and even if I had lost out in the very first heat, I would have still been here on the beach hanging out with everyone and having a good time.”

THE PAIN: Though the Tommy Tant Memorial Classic is always fun for the whole community, everyone from the volunteers to the competitors remembers that behind the festive atmosphere is the memory of a wonderful young man who was lost entirely too soon. “Everyone goes down there to the contest and has a great time and is really enjoying themselves, but it’s bittersweet if you stop to take a step back and think about what it’s really about,” Jesse Heilman said. “It stirs up all these emotions that I can’t begin to explain or even really feel, since I’ve never lost someone that close to me. But it’s amazing what their family has done to reflect Tommy’s memory, and it’s something that really has an impact on the community.”

THE MAN: This one goes out to all who volunteered, competed, donated, or just showed up to offer their support at this year’s Tommy Tant Memorial Classic. The effects of the event go deeper than most could imagine. “The 19th was the day Tommy passed away, and it was an intense experience this year to be sitting around reflecting on everything, but it was also a beautiful reminder of how these sorts of memorial events can get you through depressing times,” Will Tant said. “It’s a testimony to the healing that can take place when you share that with a community.”

YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB: “Every year it surprises me the impact that the Tant family has had on the local community. Every single one of those people on the beach looks forward to that event all year.” –Men’s Pro Winner Jesse Heilman



1. Jesse Heilman

2. Jeremy Johnston

3. Asher Nolan

4. Evan Thompson



1. Robbie McCormick

2. Matthew Glenn

3. Chase Stevens

4. Cobie Gittner

5. DJ Buchanon

6. Evan Brownell


1. Jimmy Blumenfeld

2. Tony Marino

3. Willy Gilreath

4. Stephan Nipple

5. Jeff Lastinger

6. JJ Crane



1. Eros Exarhou

2. Cobie Gittner

3. Austin Clouse

4. Nikita Pandelos



1. Cierra Cunningham

2. Molly Kirk

3. Alycia Simmons

4. Danielle Miller

5. Jillian Bontempo

6. Kelsey McCormick



1. Dylan Martin

2. Fisher Grant

3. Justin Wilmot

4. Robbie McCormick

5. Jimmy Blumenfeld

6. Matt Novak




1. Rossi Klein

2. Haley Watson

3. Cierra Cunningham

4. Sydney Herring



1. Chase Elmore

2. Tommy Coleman

3. Noah Dovin

4. Blake Elmore

5. Ryan Huckabee

6. Joei Purnell



1. Haley Watson

2. Alicia Simmons

3. Hannah Blevins

4. Alicya Simmons

5. Cierra Cunningham



1. Cobie Gittner

2. Fisher Grant

3. Tyler Newsome

4. Chase Stevens

5. Mathew Zaccaraia

6. Christian Sprinkle



1. Lily Whatley

2. Jillian Bontempo

3. Shawn Wetzel

4. Hannah Blevins

4. Isabella Carolin



1. Steven Tyson

2. Matt Novak

3. Fisher Grant

4. Bill Whatley

5. Kieran Grant

6. Alan Elison



1. Jay Smith

2. Walter Snell

3. Lynn Harrington

4. Bill Whatley

5. Michael Lindsay

6. Steven Hutton



1. Benji Lange

2. Carl Burger

3. Garrett Marshal

4. Christian Scwarz

5. Cole Casper

6. Braeden Kopec


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