There’s no question that NY has gotten thrashed by anyone and everyone in the media for being a lame stop. But that only shows what little they know. Long Beach can handle anything. It’s not like NJ that closes out on double-overhead swells (except for a few nameless jewels). The bigger Long Beach gets, the better. I’ve seen triple-overhead A-frames break flawlessly for miles in every direction. And big is not a rare sight. Plus, those beaches don’t need a large swell to work. When an east swell rolls in and a N or NE wind is blowin’, pointbreak-style lefts fire off every jetty. It doesn’t take much to light the place up and that’s what those naysayers are failing to see. Didn’t even mention the grinding hollow barrels….
The contest is the culmination of years of work by Unsound Surf Shop owners Mike Nelson and Dave Juan. They’ve both been legends on the local scene for a long time, creating opportunities for the kids in the area with exposure and sponsorships. But, as Sam Hammer said, their efforts in getting the Quiksilver Pro to NY raised their status to a whole new level. Dave’s frustration about the years of work it took to get a company to sponsor a major contest was palpable during our conversation. While a few stepped up with small contests here and there, most laughed at the notion, having no foresight to the market or the extraordinary number of pros who are rising from NY and NJ beaches. With relief clearly in his voice, Dave said, “Quiksilver sees how good the waves can really get….I think they are more on it than other companies…Plus they see Balaram…and I think it all just clicked together.”
And then there’s Balaram Stack. Born and raised in Long Beach, Balaram will be a force to reckon with. While he may not have the competitive chops of the Buchans and De Souzas, he’s got a repertoire of barrel riding and airs that rival any of the top 34. The rest of the local crew (Sam Hammer, Leif Engstrom and Ryan Carlson who is a Californian, but had a deep influence on the NY scene) earned their prestigious trials bids through contest results, hard-charging and a sweet knowledge of the tricky line-ups. Only the winner of the trials advances to the main event in a winner take-all deal. And international competition is fierce. Air specialists like Clay Marzo and Craig Anderson will be two of the toughest draws, while the rest of the field will be gunning for invaluable world tour points and one more rung on the climb to get off the WQS grind and onto the dream of the WCT.
But have no fear, because our local boys are ready. Though Engstrom admitted to just being stoked to being in the water with Anderson and Marzo, he’s stepped up his exercise routine, travelled to Indo to ensure plenty of practice time and refined his entire quiver, expecting a new batch in time for the comp.
Sam Hammer enters the trials pumped and confident, basking in the realization that he’s got nothing to lose. Plus, his unparalleled knowledge of the line-up can’t be ignored and his penchant for big and hollow will play well to his advantage if the break really turns on. “I’m going in with a lot of experience…and I know what my strengths are and I’m just going to use them.” Hammer could pull off these trials, particularly if it gets dark and mean (have you seen “Dark Fall”?). That’s all I’m sayin…
While Ryan Carlson is listed as Californian, his influence in NY is unquestioned. Hammer made the point of saying, “Carlson is really responsible for Balaram…and he pushed NY surfing.” Dave Juan spoke of the impact Ryan’s presence had on the area’s surfers and the leaps the sport took on NY shores when his mark radiated to those around him. There’s a spiritual connection to Long Beach for Carlson and with a bag of tricks and barrel riding that could take it to anyone, he’ll be another to throw your money on to get into the main event.
Speaking of money, first place in the main event goes home with $300,000. Yes, that’s correct. $300,000. So, don’t kid yourself into believing any of these guys are “just thrilled to have the opportunity to surf against the best”. Money talks. Particularly in NY.