BELMAR - The women's event at any surf contest is rarely the main draw.
Normally, the best conditions are saved for the men, with women surfing smaller waves or unfavorable winds. But Sunday at the Foster's Belmar Pro, Jamie DeWitt Baittinger, a native of Beach Haven, stole the show.
DeWitt Baittinger, 27, took first place in her first- and second-round heats to get to the final of the Hannah Women's Pro with rising seas thanks to Hurricane Igor.
Then in the final, she pushed herself over the ledge of a solid 8-foot wave, made the drop, drew a bottom turn and set up in the pocket.
The entire crowd was on its feet as she pulled into a dangerous barrel, emerged for a split second and was eaten by the next section. She was awarded an 8.83 as the crowd erupted.
"I knew I just needed a big one. And if I wasn't going to do any turns, I was just going to pull in," she said. DeWitt Baittinger won the event and $800.
DeWitt Baittinger was a top East Coast competitor in the 1990s and early 2000s but eventually grew frustrated with the lack of support.
She now lives on the Outer Banks in North Carolina with her husband, Ken, and works as a bar manager to support her surfing. She returned to competitive surfing two years ago.
Sisters Ariel and Alexis Engstrom, 19, of Montauk, N.Y., took second and third. Kim Kepich, 20, of Millstone, took fourth.
The Belmar Pro, which ran for its eighth year, saw its best waves, weather and crowd ever.
The waves were small for the early rounds on Thursday, growing through the day ahead of a passing storm. Friday morning was near-perfect, as the front passed offshore, leaving waves in the 3- to 5-foot range with offshore winds. Groundswell from Hurricane Igor filled in through the day.
Saturday and Sunday saw some dramatic waves near double overhead, with varying wind and tide conditions throughout the weekend. While many of the waves were closed out, the pure size made for a spectacle rarely seen in New Jersey.
Local stars were knocked out of the Fosters Belmar Pro early Sunday. Lavallette's Sam Hammer, 30, took fourth in his quarterfinal heat. Matt Keenan, 35, of Ocean City, was in second place in his heat with an 8.83 total.
Surfing the challenging waves on his backhand, Keenan had several bottom turns on sizable waves where he went straight back up and carved powerful backside turns. In the closing minutes, however, he was edged out by Dane Zaun, 19, of South Bay, Los Angeles.
The Pro final was also a riveting one, coming down to Michael Powell, 22, of Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., Kyle Garson, 33, of Indialantic, Fla., Nathan Carvalho, 18, of Lihue, Hawaii, and Michael Dunphy, 20, of Virginia Beach, Va.
"I was expecting small, mushy surf," said Carvahlo, who surfed brilliantly and even scored a perfect 10 on Friday for a long tube ride. "I bought my groveler board (small-wave surfboard) and it ended up being amazing. I not only got waves, but I got barreled.
"I didn't think I was going to get barreled here."
Carvalho set the tone in the final with a 7.5, but lost the lead to Powell. All four finalists wound up within a few points.
Carvalho posted another 7.5 and looked to be running away with the lead. In the waning minutes, Dunphy caught the third wave of a huge set, navigated a massive wall, pulled in, and was spit out of a frothy barrel for a 9.
Dunphy had gone from third to first place, winning with a 15.40 to Carvalho's 15 and taking home $5,000. Powell and Garson took third and fourth.
The Pro Longboard was riveting as well, seeing four broken surfboards in just three rounds of action. Tony Silvagni, of Kure Beach, N.C., repeated his 2008 win with noserides and turns in chunky waves over Belmar local Brian Dalton.
The Fins Junior Pro brought in some of the best under-21 surfers in the nation. Dylan Southworth, 20, of Sayulita, Mexico, had two phenomenal waves to beat Parker Coffin, 14, of Santa Barbara, Calif.; Balaram Stack, 19, of Long Beach, N.Y.; and Cole Richards, 18, of Garden City, S.C.
Many of the competitors are heading to the Hurley Outer Banks Pro in North Carolina next weekend.