It’s the most wonderful time of year – the time of year that causes East coast surfers to lose sleep.
The blazing hot doldrums of summer have finally begun to yield to everyone’s favorite time of year, which means not only cooler nights and cotton candy skies, but a season riddled with swell and favorable water temps.
It truly is a divine place to situate yourself, especially if you’re a competitor in the Easterns surfing competition, which just so happens to fall smack dab during the height of tropical swell season. AKA; ‘hurricane season’.
“Oh, there’s always some sort of weather and waves this time of year,” says Michelle Sommers, executive director of the Eastern Surfing Association. “Over the years, you just learn to pack accordingly.” With Mother Nature, you never know what you’ll get, so that could mean packing everything from rain jackets to sweatshirts, tank tops, wetsuits, and a surfboard for every type of condition.
Comprised of over 25 districts and 2,000 miles of coastline, the ESA has been supporting surfers from Maine to Florida, Alabama and the Great Lakes for over 52 years.
“What’s even more impressive is that outside of 2 paid employees, we are entirely volunteer based and have over 5,000 members,” she says.
Each year, the ESA hosts a contest season within each district where surfers compete in different divisions. Those who have qualified in their division will go on to compete in, that’s right, Easterns, the mecca of East Coast competition surfing.
“Originally, Easterns was held at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Due to issues with permitting, weather, flooding, etcetera, the event was moved to Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head and we couldn’t be happier,” she says. “It’s not only a central locale for the competitors, but it’s also great for the community.”
The well of surf talent seems to be a reservoir that never runs dry, she adds.
“Two years ago, the waves were so big the adults couldn’t even make it out, but somehow the kids were out there charging and getting these perfect waves,” Sommers says. “It really was inspiring to watch.”
With more than 300 competitors and 27 divisions – which short and longboard, bodyboard, and SUP – the excitement and adrenaline are as strong as the coffee being swilled at this week-long event.
Especially since the stakes have risen higher than ever.
“The ESA is now partners with the World Surf League,” Sommers says, adding that means amateur surfers who have the desire to take their skills to the next level now have a more direct path. “Kids are now earning points during heats, learning about the competitive process, and the top spots in each division will now get sponsored slots.”
With pro surfers such as Kelly Slater, Lisa Anderson, the Lopez and Hobgood brothers who all cut their competitive teeth within the ESA circuit, up and coming groms are frothing harder than ever.
At its core, Easterns remains steadfast.
“Our goal is to always keep it fun,” Sommers says. “We realize that less pressure creates a more fun, relaxed environment.” Not to mention that it’s a great opportunity for folks to come together. You get an East coast family when you are a part of this event. It’s almost like a reunion for a week in Nags Head.”
As the event winds down, finalists pack away their trophies and plaques, judges put away their clipboards and coordinators break down scaffolding, one fact remains, she says.
“Everyone loves this contest, and we are happy to see people passing on the stoke of surfing!”