New Smyrna Beach was the fifth and final regional stop of the Oakley Surf Shop Challenge. A total of fourteen teams arrived at the south side of Ponce Inlet on August 12th all vying for the lone team slot to represent the Southeast region in the final upcoming event to be held next month at Huntington Beach.
Pulling up to the entrance gate at 7 a.m. I was reminded of this charming beachside town's reputation as I nearly stepped on the carcass of a baby hammerhead that lay in the sand – obviously discarded by a nighttime fisherman. Here's a fact you may wanna sink your teeth into before surfing Smyrna; Not only does the area have the most consistent wave on Florida's East Coast, but it also records the most recorded shark bites. This was the first time in its five-year inception that Florida stop of the Surf Shop Challenge has moved outside of Sebastian. Considering the consistency factor of New Smyrna Inlet it was a wise move since the East Coast has been suffering through a long bout of flat spell blues. In fact, half way into August and the Atlantic had yet to name its first tropical storm.
The early morning incoming tide offered the cleanest conditions of the event but the humidity was so high you could cut it with a knife. The heat index surpassed the 100-degree mark and the bikini clad ladies were in peak season. Welcome to summertime in Florida.
Supergrom Noah Schweizer was the first to hit the water. His feather-weight frame and fox like reflexes made the 1 - 2 foot surf look downright fun. If Smyrna was this small, then everywhere else was certainly flat. Noah's Red Dog teammate Taylor Brothers followed with the first respectable score of the event, a 7.5, which he was quick to claim as his double whammy. Aaron Cormican is like royalty in New Smyrna. When Gorkin enters the surf all eyes take note cause they know something sick is about to happen. Unfortunately today was certainly no day for executing flips or other crazy and innovative moves but AC was still able to connect with a decent right-hander and devour every last drop of energy it may have once possessed.
Although Surf Station rallied the highest total points of the heat with all four team riders pulling in decent scores they were penalized 5 points for not bringing their final team rider, Eric Taylor, back to the box before the 50 minute heat expired. Actually, ET claimed his first wave (a 6.8) and paddled in but was told to go back out because the judges didn't see the claim. That allowed Catalyst and Red Dog, the two top-scoring teams out of the three Round One heats to advance into the finals.
The repercharge consisted of Daytona's Salty Dog, St. Augustine's Surf Station and Jacksonville's Sunrise and Aqua East teams. Sunrise used a smart strategy by calling in their first rider after two lackluster waves. That allowed fellow teammates, Garrett Carmichael, Asher Nolan and Ryan Briggs ample time to reel in scores in the range of 6.5 to 8.0 for a heat high total of 29.56. Salty Dog's Jeremy Johnson signed off on his first wave with a major fish tail slide, double whammying his 7.75. Soon after, JJ's teammate Shannon "Hopper" Eichstadt connected with the best wave of the event, back snapping the snot out of it three times and earning him an average of an 8.25. After spending the past couple of years enlisted in secret missions South of the Border, it was Hopper's first day back in a competition jersey. Welcome back amigo! Salty Dog would then advance out of the heat along with Sunrise and place them into the finals against Catalyst and Red Dog.
The conditions for the 50-minute final were a bit wind chopped but the moderate onshores created some punchy sections. The key to a good score was being able to do a few maneuvers on the outside, stay with the foam ball and bounce it into the inside section. Sunrise Team Captain Garrett Carmichael, aka G-Rat, worked his strategy once again by switching their double whammy surfer from Asher to Briggs. Briggs, being their third surfer, became a bit frustrated on his first two waves by not making the crucial inside connections but found enough flow on his final wave to reel it into a fast and walling inside section which he sign off with a sick front side lipper. Asher then closed up the final 10 minutes with two solid inside connecting lefts that he ripped all the way to shore.
The deal was done. Sunrise wrapped up their third Surf Shop Challenge victory in four years and in doing so created a sort of dynasty on the SE Region. Sunrise won the big show in 2006, so Floridians everywhere are hoping they can represent next month at Huntington Pier and bring the National Title back home.
1) Sunrise 32.0
2) Salty Dog 24.76
3) Catalyst 22.6
4) Red Dog 21.7
FCS Award for Functional Creative Surfing:
Ryan Briggs from Sunrise Surf Shop
Story and Photo's by Kevin Welsh / SurfNRG.com