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Sunday, August 19, 2012
A look at the 50th Annual ECSC

By Jon Coen

East Coast Surfing Championships
The East Coast Championships will run this week, featuring a 6-star supported by Vans. Can big names make up for small waves?

Summer's days are numbered this year. And that means you will be grabbing hold of the crew you surfed with this summer -- the salt-crusted guys and sun-drenched gals you did dawn patrols, boat days, beach parties, road trips, evening glass offs, and summer concerts with -- to do one more epic mission to end the summer.

You get the idea that's what the Gilgo Beach, N.Y. kids were thinking back in 1961 when they gathered up the homies they had surfed with all summer and held the first East Coast competition in August. The event grew the next year and this time the Virginia pioneers made the trip. By 1964, the decision was made to move this fledgling East Coast Surfing Championships to Virginia Beach. And that's where it has stayed. And this year the contest celebrates its 50th year with a very serious pro event that begins Monday.

Vans first got involved in the Coastal Edge ECSC a few years back with the Joel Tudor Duct Tape Classic. Last year, they tacked on an ASP 4-star. That would have been the big news if the event didn't run in an unheard of two days before Hurricane Irene swallowed VB whole. This year, Vans has kicked down a $155,000 purse for a full six-star. There's also a Vans Junior Pro.

And that means East Coasters will actually have a shot at building some points toward the World Tour, or at least some prime events. But it also means Californians, Euros, Hawaiians and a swarm of Brazilians will roll into VB guns blazing. So the points and money won't come easy -- and that's to the surfers who even get into the ECSC.

Just take a look at the heavies Virginia Beach will play host to this year: Nate Yeomens, Brian Toth, Joan Duru, Mitch Coleborn, Tanner Gudauskas and Chris Ward. It's a formidable contingent. Right now, Nat Young is the top seed. He won the Vans Junior Pro here last year and is currently No. 18 on the ASP World Rankings.

Nat Young
Nat Young is the top seed coming into the ECSC. He won the Vans Junior Pro last year before Hurricane Irene hit.

"It's great that we have the ECSC at least. The U.S. doesn't have that many star events. Europe has the most, so it's cool that it's on the East Coast and not on another continent," said No. 1 seed Nat Young.

But do any Right Siders have a shot? It's a bleak age for the East Coast. Sure C.J. and Damien Hobgood are holding things down in Teahupoo, Tahiti, this week. And East Coasters will claim Kelly Slater to infinity, even if he seems to be more from Mars than Cocoa Beach. But not too many fellas from Florida, Virginia and North Carolina are even near the bubble. The closest would be Gabe Kling, who fell off the tour last December. Behind him is Evan Geiselman, the East Coast's next hope. Then there's Cory Lopez who was surfing 30-foot Chopes this time last year and Micheal Dunphy, Virginia's best shot since Wes Laine, 30 years ago (that's right, 30 years).

"I think it's cool that the ECSC is such a big contest this year. But it would be great to have a New York qualifying event and maybe one on the Outer Banks," offered Kling, who is currently No. 50 on the World Ranking.

He'd just driven 17 hours from St. Augustine to V.B. with his young family. Is he bummed to be slogging it out on the East Coast again? Not at all.

"Back in the day, there were four or five small East Coast WQS events in a row and it was a great time. The waves seemed to show and it was a solid way for young East Coasters to get some points without breaking the bank. I think we would all be stoked to see some of those come back to the East Coast."

That brings us to the forecast, which is looking about as good as a steaming hot bowl of grits on a 90-degree day in Virginia Beach. Let's just say that Surfline's V.B. outlook rhymes with "splat," for early week.

"Last year was pretty fun, and another time I was out there, we had waves too. This year doesn't look to promising," added Young, "But I need this result going into the second part of the year. I'm taking every opportunity."

Young has two boards that he feels pretty confident on in true grovel waves: a standard 5-11 epoxy shorty that he rode at the U.S. Open, and a new 5-6 flat, wide, model from Channel Islands that doesn't even have a name yet.

Gabe Kliing
One year ago, Gabe Kling was competing at Teahupoo. He fell off the tour soon after. Is he bitter to be in V.B.? No, he's happy that he has the chance at some points on the East Coast.

The only swell hope currently is Invest 94, way across the Atlantic. It is predicted to intensify, but the models are uncertain if it will push through the Caribbean or curve into V.B.'s swell window. And even if it took the perfect track, the swell might not show by next weekend when the ECSC wraps up.

The BMX, flag football, skating, volleyball, bands and corn hole tournament are sure to keep everyone happy. But the surf show will go on. It has for 50 years, through knee-lappers and hurricanes.