As athletes start to head back to college and attention turns to preseason football, it might seem the summer is winding down.

But for surfers, the big part of the season is just getting started. The 52nd annual Coastal Edge East Coast Surfing Championships, which starts today, is the first in a string of professional East Coast events, and three locals are primed for action.

This year marks the 52nd annual ECSC, an event that began as an end-of-summer beach party on Long Island, N.Y., and shifted to Virginia Beach, where the local chapter of the Jaycees has created a weeklong festival that includes a massive 30 amateur divisions for both genders and all ages.

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But the jewels of the ECSC are the pro surfing events.

For the men, there is the Vans Pro, a 4-star (out of six) Association of Surfing Professionals World Qualifying Series event and the Vans Junior. The Pro purse is $95,000, the Junior Pro purse $20,000. For the ladies, it's the Viridian Women's Pro, a nonsanctioned contest with a $5,000 purse.

Several New Jersey surfers planned to compete. Pat Schmidt, 19, of Manasquan will surf in the Vans Junior Pro.

Atlantic and Cape May counties also will be represented.

Rob Kelly, 24, of Ocean City, will compete in the Vans Pro. Nineteen-year-old Cassidy McClain, of Ventnor, and 16-year-old Maddie Peterson, of Wildwood Crest, will surf the Viridian Women's Pro.

"I've been doing ECSC since I was about 12, and I've had a lot of fun competing in this event. The waves usually haven't been too good in past years, but we're hoping that this year will be fun," Peterson said Thursday, before heading south to the event.

Earlier this year, Peterson finished second in the Under-16 division at the Surfing America Prime event in Santa Cruz, Calif.. She also got a wave at the buzzer to beat good friend Caroline Marks and win their division at the Prime event at New Smyrna Inlet, Fla.

Peterson qualified for the Surfing America traveling team and in April competed in the International Surfing Association's Vissla World Junior Championships in Ecuador. Most recently, she won the Ripcurl Grom Search in Huntington Beach, Calif., got second in the Surfing America Championships in San Clemente, Calif.. She also recently got back from Oceanside, Calif., where she made several rounds of the Super Girl Pro 6 Star, her first World Qualifying Series event. Locally, she is sponsored by 7th St Surf Shop.

"It's really cool to have this big of an event on the East Coast because it brings surfing to a larger crowd of people. I love competing in anything that will get me ready for an ASP WQS or junior. They say practice makes perfect."

ECSC experience

Rob Kelly is a veteran of this event at this point and has had mixed results, including a quarterfinal finish at the ECSC Vans Pro in 2011. In 2013, he took fifth at the ASP 4-star Rip Curl Pro Puerto Rico and led 7th Street Surf Shop to the Oakley Surf Shop Challenge National finals in Indonesia.

"When ECSC first become a sanctioned event and part of the World Qualifying Series a few years ago, it attracted a lot of national and international pros to the event. Now that the Outer Banks Pro (N.C.) and Belmar Pro (N.J.) are also ASP-sanctioned events, I'm expecting a lot more international surfers competing here," Kelly said. "It's definitely a big deal for East Coast surfing. One of the premier events in California, the Lowers Pro, got dropped this year, but two events were added in North Carolina and New Jersey. I think that says a lot for our region."

'Fun and exciting'

McClain is making her first trip to the ECSC.

She has made a name for herself locally by winning not only the Junior Women's title at the Eastern Surfing Association Northeast Regionals but also grabbing the Open Division against the guys the past two years. She was crowned the 2013 Junior Women's champion at the ESA Eastern Championships. In June, she won a title at the Surfing American National Championships. Her goal also is to build points for the WQS.

"I never had a chance to surf the ECSC because I always had another contest going on, or never had the time to go down for a whole week. It's the East Coast equivalent to the U.S. Open, so it should be pretty fun and exciting. The level of surfing will be really high, as there are girls coming form all over the East Coast as well as California and Hawaii," McClain said.

"I'm into collecting points on the WQS, so it's a bummer that this isn't an ASP event because it doesn't mean getting on a plane and flying to California or another country. I would have to spend an insane amount of money traveling to get these points."

She has spent the summer working at Stacey's Surf Camp in Margate and at Heritage Surf Shop, one of her sponsors.

Unfavorable forecast

The event runs at Virginia Beach's First Street Jetty. Among the surfers to beat in the Pro will be returning champ and former ASP Tour surfer Patrick Guduaskas of San Clemente, Calif., and Michael Dunphy, a local to Virginia Beach. Dunphy is ranked No. 18 on the WQS, a very good position for an East Coast surfer.

The surf forecast does not look favorable as there are no hurricanes in the Atlantic and little active weather on the East Coast for the foreseeable future.

The Eastern Surfing Championships runs through next Sunday.The Vans Pro portion live webcast can be found at vans.com/eventsites/ecsc.

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