Ocean City’s Rob Kelly went to Puerto Rico a few weeks ago to film a surfing movie with his brother.
He’ll come home this week with a little extra money in his pocket.
The 23-year-old professional surfer made it to the semifinals of the four-star ASP Rip Curl Pro Puerto Rico on Wednesday. His sixth-place finish netted him $2,500 and some crucial points on the Association of Surfing Professionals North American tour.
“I couldn’t be more stoked,” Kelly said in a phone interview after the best finish of his professional career. “The location of the event brought out a lot of competitors from all over the world. Getting to compete against guys from Europe, Australia, South American and Hawaii was a good opportunity to gauge your ability on an international level.”
Cody Thompson of Jacksonville, Fla., won the inaugural surfing competition in Jobos, Puerto Rico, in 4- to 6-foot waves. The ASP rates events on a scale of one to five stars.
“Ever since they announced they were going to have this event at Jobos, I knew it was going to be an amazing event,” Thompson said in a statement on the ASP website. “To get this win here, I’m stoked and we’ll just take it on to the next one.”
Kelly started the day in the Round of 32. His score of 10.30 in Heat 4 was second to ASP veteran C.J. Hobgood (12.56), moving Kelly into the quarterfinals to face off against Puerto Rico native Dylan Graves and longtime professional surfer Ben Bourgeois, an Ocean City native.
Kelly said that throughout the contest the best waves formed near a large rock that was part of the reef and jutted out of the water.
“That quarterfinal was definitely a battle,” he said. “The surf was still big and powerful and most of the waves were breaking next to the rock. With four other guys competing for money, it gets hectic pushing each other closer and closer to the rock to try and maintain position.”
Kelly said his break came when he moved away from the rock and found a rare wave that broke to the left, propelling him to the semifinals.
He finished the quarterfinal heat with a score of 11.66, second to Graves’ 11.90. Bourgeois was third with 11.40. The top two finishers in each heat advanced to the next round.
But that same strategy failed Kelly in the semifinals when the tide dropped, changing the size of the waves.
“By the time I realized I needed to re-strategize, too much time had already run off the clock,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that it was going to get that shallow there.”
He finished last in his semifinal with a score of 5.74.
Although his run ended on a down note, Kelly couldn’t be much more excited about how his trip to Puerto Rico turned out.
“It forces you to step your game up knowing that you’re competing against guys at the highest level,” he said. “I’m pumped on the result, but also stoked on the opportunity to surf heats with world tour veterans like C.J. Hobgood. I learned so much from that.”
He also gained critical points on the ASP North American Tour, which will gain him access to more major contests. Kelly said that to enter bigger events you need points, but to get points, you have to enter big events and do well.
“The best way to break through that wall is to have a substantial event like this,” he said.
Kelly said he will return to Puerto Rico in March for another contest, and he plans compete in some more ASP North American contests on the East Coast with the goal of accumulating as many tour points as possible.
“With competitors in the event from around the globe, Rob did a great job representing New Jersey surfing,” said Brian Liess, one of Kelly’s 7th Street Surf Shop teammates who joined him in Puerto Rico.
Contact Mark Melhorn:
1. Cody Thompson (USA) 10.10; 2. Andrew Doheny (USA) 9.96; 3. Evan Geiselman (USA) 9.83; 4. Dylan Graves (Puerto Rico) 8.96.
Heat 1: Graves 13.87; Geiselman 13.64; Gabe Kling (USA) 11.23; Rob Kelly (USA) 5.74.
Heat 2: Doheny 14.36; Thompson 9.76; Cory Lopez (USA) 9.50; Manuel Selman (Chile) 6.23.
Heat 1: Graves 11.90, Kelly 11.66, Ben Bourgeois (USA) 11.40; Dillon Perillo (USA) 6.90.
Round of 32
Heat 4: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 12.56; Kelly 10.30; Michael Dunphy (USA) 9.80; Wesley Toth (Puerto Rico) 8.77.