OCEAN CITY - Nearly 150 surfers competed in the eighth annual Chip Miller Surf Fest on Thursday, raising money despite fairly lackluster surfing conditions.
Even with small waves, the support was still strong on the 7th Street beach for the charitable event.
Though the forecast called for basically no surf, there was a consistent 1-foot trade swell and some 2-foot waves to be ridden throughout the day. However, running a double-beach format with six people in each heat, surfers were fighting for the odd set wave.
But Mike Ciaramella, who has come to dominate this event over the past five years, was able to find those waves that were slightly better to win both the Junior Men and Men's divisions. (Surfers are eligible to surf up a division.)
"Everyone on the (Association of Surfing Professionals) World Tour is good at surfing small waves. Every day isn't perfect. Even the best guys trying to qualify for the World Tour are really good in small waves. You need to have it in your repertoire," Ciaramella, 17, of Stone Harbor, said. "You can charge big waves, but if you can't stand up and get going on the small days, you aren't going to impress anyone."
Ciaramella won the Boys and Longboard divisions in 2007, the Juniors in 2008 and then both Juniors and Men's in 2009. Last year's event was called halfway through because of a lightning storm.
On the smallest of lines Thursday, Ciaramella found enough energy to push his fins free on a turn in the Men's final to earn the win.
This event served as a warm-up for Ciaramella. He will enter a series of East Coast professional events for much of late August and September, while starting his senior year at Middle Township High School.
The event honors the late Chip Miller, who was a classic Ocean City surf dad. He died in 2004 of amyloidosis, a rare disease in which abnormal proteins affect the body's organs. His friends and family carry on his spirit with the Chip Miller Surf Fest, as well as Corvette shows in Carlisle, Pa.
Thursday's surf event, a related golf tournament and after-party raised funds for amyloidosis research, adding on to the more than $100,000 that Miller's friends and family already had raised over the years.
Lance Miller ran the show Thursday, organizing heats and entertaining kids. At noon, everyone involved paddled into the ocean for a memorial.
"I never met Chip Miller," Ciaramella said, "but he has a reputation for just being the best guy."
Quite possibly the best wave of the day came through during the Masters final. Colin Gibbs, 28, of Ocean City, happened to be in the right spot. He pushed into the right off the 7th Street jetty and nailed a big slash in front of the crowd for the win.
The smaller surf seemed to favor some surfers, particularly the smaller ones. Ten-year-old Ben Nuesteder, son of well-respected surfer and surf industry rep, Mark Neustadter, of Margate, surfed in his first contest. He made the finals, taking fourth place.
"I was surfing one time and thinking to myself, 'I wonder what would happen if I enter a contest.' And it just came to me. Making the final almost feels as good as winning it," the young Neustadter said.
The conditions also worked out for Mikey Vanaman, of Ocean City. Vanaman, 10, took second in 2009, but this year won both the Groms and Boys divisions. Surfing with boys several years older, Vanaman caught anything that even looked like a wave and showed skill years beyond his age.
Ventnor's Cassidy McClain, 16, is another surfer who showed how important it is to be versatile. Light and quick, she found a few waves on her backhand to ace the Women's division. McClain also has a string of events coming up and the ability to get through heats in less-than-ideal conditions will only help her.
1, Mikey Vanaman
2, Steven Zarkroft
3, Kyle Julien
1, Mikey Vanaman
3, Sean Taylor
1, Mike Ciaramella
1, Mike Ciaramella
2, Alex Brooks
3, Sean Santiago
1, Colin Gibbs
2, Jacques Beningo
3, Ron Collins
1, Cassidy McClain
2, Grace Becker
3, Courtney Lenny
1, Sunny Stevens
2, Ted Lyons
3, Carmen Garcia
1, Rob Kelly, Donna Kelly
2, Sonny Stevens, Blake Kelly, Chase Kelly