SEASIDE HEIGHTS - Ocean City's Heritage Surf Shop won its fourth straight Oakley Surf Shop Challenge Northeast Qualifier on Friday at Casino Pier.
But this year's victory is different.
In the past, the winning team traveled to Orange County, Calif., to compete in the national championship. But this year, the championship will be in Bali, Indonesia, in November.
"I've traveled the whole world and never been to Indonesia," Andrew Gesler, 28, the team's highest scorer, said.
Heritage outlasted newcomer Farias Surf from Ship Bottom 30.24 points to 27.61 in Friday's competition.
The Oakley Surf Shop Challenge is designed to bring respect to local surf shops. Before the success of professional surfing today, being a member of the traditional shop team was a point of pride. There are seven regional qualifying contests around the country, and this year, with the trip to Indonesia on the line, there was plenty of talent gunning for a chance at the title.
New Jersey squads have dominated the Northeast qualifier and this year shops from other states didn't even compete, further focusing the rivalries among the 10 entries.
Each squad consisted of two shop riders and two employees. One competitor from each team surfs at a time, and the high score of each is added together for a total. One surfer is designated as the "double whammy" who can choose one wave for double points.
After two rounds, the five teams that surfed the final included Inlet/Outlet of Manasquan, Farias of Ship Bottom, Ocean Hut of Lavallette, and two Heritage Surf teams - one from Ocean City and one from Sea Isle City.
Gesler was injured surfing last October. He had surgery on his knee, spent 10 weeks on crutches and then was in rehab all winter. The Surf Shop Challenge was only his 11th time in the water since the injury.
"I think this was our biggest team event win ever," Gesler said. "I dropped the ball in the first round. But the boys pulled together and elected me as the double whammy again. And I saw it through to the end."
With Heritage Surf owner Brian Heritage, a former pro surfer, coaching down by the water, Gesler exacted three sharp forehand turns for a 7.0 score. The team was buoyed by a 7.67 mark from Margate's Ian Bloch, as well as solid showings from Ocean City's Jamie Moran and Margate's Zach Humphreys.
But Bloch's score wasn't the highest of the event. In the water at the same time as Gesler, Surf City's Conor Willem caught a nice left and executed a clean, sweeping turn for an 8.3 punctuated by a second gouge. It was one of the most open-faced waves of the event and Willem's turn was classic style.
Willem competed for Farias, one of the premier shops on Long Beach Island. Before this year, LBI didn't have a strong presence in the event, but this year's Ship Bottom team of Willem, Holgate's Brian Bowker, Surf City's Royce Weber and Ship Bottom's Tanner Pannetta, and an entry from Farias' Beach Haven store, showed some good signs for the future.
"I think it's happening. There are surfers we've looked up to for a long time and (local pro) Randy Townsend has pushed us. I think this generation of island surfers is just getting more competitive," Willem said.
7th Street Surf Shop traditionally has been Heritage's biggest rival but faced a lack of waves and found themselves out before the final round.
Heritage's Sea Isle City shop team of Cape May Court House's Chris Eaves, Sea Isle City's Chris Howard, Stone Harbor's Mikey Ciaramella and Linwood's Shane Mathews took third place with 25 points bolstered by Ciaramella's 7.17.