LONG BEACH, N.Y. - Right before the third heat of the Quiksilver New York Pro Trials, Frank Walsh hopped off his personal watercraft.
The surfer and Atlantic City firefighter/lifeguard had been recruited by his longtime sponsor, Quiksilver, to work with the water patrol during the event.
Walsh, of Atlantic City, jogged up the beach to his old friend, Sam Hammer, put an arm around him and wished him good luck before Hammer surfed.
The Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour is back on the East Coast for the first time in more than 20 years.
The last time the tour came through this region was the Garden State Pro in Seaside Heights, back in 1988.
The contest, in Long Beach, started on Tuesday, as big swells from Hurricane Katia started filtering in on Monday. And while there aren't any locals competing with the world's elite 32 surfers, it has proved an opportunity to many.
"They called me up a few weeks ago and asked if I could be part of the water patrol team," said Walsh, whose career with the city has taken priority over his competitive surfing, "I'm just honored to be a part of it. I've been with them since 1999. Even if I'm not still surfing professionally, it's nice to know that I'm part of the family."
Walsh, 33, is working under Jamie Mitchell, Quiksilver's big-wave surfer and paddleboard world champ. They are responsible for water safety and getting cameras into the action.
"Quiksilver is taking care of me this week, and I get a front-row seat for the contest," Walsh said. "Plus, there's a chance I could be driving Kelly Slater around the lineup."
For the last 12 years, Long Beach hosted the Unsound Pro, a relatively small contest for national-level pro surfers. Several local pros competed every September. This year, the Quik, one of 12 events on the World Tour with surfing's first-ever $1 million purse, took the Unsound's place.
Hammer, of Lavallette, had been in the Unsound Pro contest each year and won it in 2007. Because of his strong record at this and other regional events, he was given one of 16 spots in the trials.
However, he failed to advance. Asher Nolan, of Jacksonville, Fla., won and earned a slot in the main event, which started Tuesday in 2-to-4-foot waves.
Josh Kerr, 27, of Australia has the highest single-wave scores of 9.50 and 9.07 (out of 10) to advance to the next round. Reigning 10-time ASP world champion Slater also had a solid Round 1 victory.
"New York has been good," Slater said. "Everyone is super cool and I'm excited to be here. The waves are a little small, so it's tough, but it's the first round and no one loses and the swell should be building. I know that Hurricane swell is out there, so we'll just see what happens."
The event has been hugely popular in New York, and Quiksilver estimated there were 30,000 spectators Monday for the opening ceremony, far more spectators than are at the finals of most World Tour events. Quik has been keeping the crowds excited while waiting for the swell by running exhibition surfing contests called Expression Sessions.
One such session featured Dean Randazzo, 42, of Somers Point. Randazzo remains the only New Jersey surfer to have ever competed on the ASP men's tour. Among some of his old travel mates, he slashed through weak surf.
"I was out there with the Hobgood brothers (Damien and C.J.) and Gabe Kling. They were guys I used to travel and compete with, so it was cool. This whole thing, bringing the tour back to the East Coast, has been a long time coming."
Quiksilver also hired Randazzo as a beach marshal, checking surfers in for their heats and making sure things run smoothly.
Perched in a tower, across the site from the athletes' area is Margate's Alex DePhillipo.
DePhillipo, 25, is known locally for his 2010 independent action documentary "Dark Fall," a film that showed the world just how good the waves can get in the Northeast. He's been hired to work on the film crew, which is handling the webcast, as well as live coverage on the Madison Square Garden network.
"Quiksilver saw the film and I heard they were really impressed with the surf. They liked what I did with the film and they asked me to work with the camera crew," said DePhillipo.
Organizers will meet this morning to decide whether to begin Round 2. A live webcast of the competition can be found at www.quicksilverpro.com.
Tuesday's Round 1 results:
Heat 1: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 13.56, Brett Simpson (USA) 13.50, Travis Logie (ZAF) 6.57
Heat 2: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 9.67, Gabe Kling (USA) 3.43, Dane Reynolds (USA) N/S
Heat 3: Taj Burrow (AUS) 13.93, Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 12.84, Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 11.46
Heat 4: Jadson Andre (BRA) 11.77, Owen Wright (AUS) 10.00, Bobby Martinez (USA) 7.10
Heat 5: Heitor Alves (BRA) 13.83, Mick Fanning (AUS) 12.73, Asher Nolan (USA) 8.60
Heat 6: Kelly Slater (USA) 14.20, Daniel Ross (AUS) 11.66, Balaram Stack (USA) 6.07
Heat 7: Alejo Muniz (BRA) 14.40, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 14.27, Cory Lopez (USA) 12.97
Heat 8: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 15.97, Bede Durbidge (AUS) 15.77, Chris Davidson (AUS) 12.00
Heat 9: Raoni Monteiro (BRA) 10.80, Adam Melling (AUS) 10.50, Michel Bourez (PYF) 7.66
Heat 10: Tiago Pires (PRT) 12.76, Damien Hobgood (USA) 12.73, Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 11.65
Heat 11: Josh Kerr (AUS) 18.57, Adriano de Souza (BRA) 15.37, Kai Otton (AUS) 11.54
Heat 12: Julian Wilson (AUS) 17.00, Taylor Knox (USA) 12.60, Kieren Perrow (AUS) 10.60
Today's Round 2 matchups:
Heat 1: Mick Fanning (AUS) vs. Balaram Stack (USA)
Heat 2: Owen Wright (AUS) vs. Asher Nolan (USA)
Heat 3: Adrian Buchan (AUS) vs. Keanu Asing (HAW)
Heat 4: Bede Durbidge (AUS) vs. Bobby Martinez (USA)
Heat 5: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Fredrick Patacchia (HAW)
Heat 6: Damien Hobgood (USA) vs. Gabe Kling (USA)
Heat 7: Adriano de Souza (BRA) vs. Travis Logie (ZAF)
Heat 8: Kieren Perrow (AUS) vs. Cory Lopez (USA)
Heat 9: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) vs. Adam Melling (AUS)
Heat 10: Chris Davidson (AUS) vs. Kai Otton (AUS)
Heat 11: Brett Simpson (USA) vs. Taylor Knox (USA)
Heat 12: Patrick Gudauskas (USA) vs. Daniel Ross (AUS)