Under overcast skies, the Northeast regional qualifier of the Oakley Shop Challenge went down on Friday April 20th. The long and dismal winter flat spell in the Northeast was finally broken with south east groundswell pushing in clean and consistent waist to head high sets under light winds. Despite the clouds, with water temps in the mid 50's and air temps hovering near 60 degrees this was a welcomed changing of the seasons for all the locals attending from New Jersey to Maine prepared to do battle for the prize of a trip to Bali and a chance to win $10,000.
As surfers suited up in the parking lot last minute pep talks and calming mantras about focusing on getting consistent scores instead of the trip to Bali demonstrated the situation was much more tense than in years past, clearly prompted by the increased stakes. "We had a full on practice-contest yesterday," according to Jamie Moran, riding for defending regional champs Heritage Ocean City. "Our entire team and everyone from 7th Street was out and from the look in everyone's eyes, you could tell it was going to be a hard fought battle."
The first semi paddled out just as the clouds broke and sun washed over the contest. Heritage Sea Isle took the highest heat total of the first round, led by whammy surfer Mike Ciramela who doubled down on a 6.93. Pat Schmidt, riding for Inlet Outlet of Manasquan, NJ. used the dumping wedges to his advantage as he managed a near full rotation air reverse for a round high score of 7.23.
Semi number two saw the return of the clouds and was also greeted with a slight onshore flow, making for more difficult conditions. Needing to better a heat total of 18.66 points to advance to the final, the heat was dominated by safety turns as most of the high-risk maneuvers resulted in failed landings and low scores. Despite the trying conditions, Heritage Ocean City managed to post a 21.34 total, edging out the heavily stacked roster of 7th Street Asbury for the fifth spot in the final.
After a quick break to refuel with Muscle Milk and energy bars, the remaining competitors reorganized and quickly went over game plans for the final. With 60 minutes on the clock and an all expense paid to Indonesia on the line, the sprint to the water line was much quicker this time around. Farias Ship Bottom jumped out to a commanding lead when Conor Willem mounted a frontside attack on a bowling left, finishing with an impressive fin release slash, resulting in a contest high score 8.3 which was doubled for 16.6 mere minutes into the final. The slow and steady gameplan put to use by both Heritage teams managed to chip away at Farias lead. Ian Bloch posted a 7.67 as the first rider for Heritage Ocean City which was followed up by a whammied 7.0 by Andrew Gesler. Ciramella again came through big for Heritage Sea Isle by whamming a 7.17, however the rest of the team was unable to better a 4.0 through the last 10 minutes of the final.
After three surfers, including their whammy's, it was a three-manned race as Ocean Hut and Inlet Outlet had been combed by the other teams. Heritage Ocean City held a 3.4 point lead over Farias with Heritage Sea Isle not far behind. Jamie Moran managed to nab a mere 3.5 through his first two waves for Heritage Ocean City which left Farias needing a low six point ride to take the lead. After a few minutes of defensive strategy, Moran aimed to put away the contest on what appeared to be the best set of the final, however an unexpected bowl formed and cut the wave short putting Heritage Ocean City defenseless on the beach for the last 5 minutes of the heat. Despite some close opportunities, Farias and Heritage Sea Isle posted a 3.8 and 4.07 respectively and failed to better the 30.24 total posted by Heritage Ocean City.
"We're all amping!" claimed Andrew Gelser who was happy to be back in the water after he recently underwent surgery and therapy to repair a torn MCL mere months ago. "We've kept the same team together for four years and we've won every time and its been incredible every time - Oakley puts on such a rad event. We're super stoked to go to Indo, but now its time to shift gears and make sure we bring home the $10,000 from nationals." The seemingly unbeatable foursome from Heritage Ocean City comprised of Ian Bloch, Andrew Gesler, Zach Humphreys and Jamie Moran will once again compete for a national title this fall under a much more exotic backdrop than years past.