OCEAN CITY — Chris Albright, Chris Konopka and some front-office associates of Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union were a big hit at the 59th Street beach Wednesday afternoon.
The players didn’t teach soccer or talk about their careers, but instead they instructed children on how to surf. The public-address system’s constant music was reggae and light rock, definitely not soccer warmup tunes.
The Union partnered with the Surfrider Foundation’s South Jersey chapter in hosting an International Surfing Day festival at the beach. The day is celebrated every June 20 around the world.
There was instruction on surfing and paddle surfing. There was even a demonstration on kite-surfing — when a flying kite attached to a surfer pulls the surfboard. The foundation, which began in 1984, also emphasizes keeping the beach and ocean clean.
Both Albright and Konopka have South Jersey seashore roots and were definitely not out of place.
Albright, 33, is a defender who also played for D.C. United, L.A. Galaxy, the New England Revolution and the New York Red Bulls before joining the Union this season.
But what Albright displayed Wednesday was the love of the beach that he picked up in the 32 summers he lived in Sea Isle City with his parents, John and Patti Albright.
Chris Albright was there with his 5-year-old daughter, Ava.
“I’ll always remember being on the beach with my mom and dad and my grandfather,” said Albright, a Flourtown, Pa., resident. “My dad taught me how to surf, but my brother, Sean (who was also there Wednesday) was better at it. I was always at the beach as a kid. I wasn’t a (lifeguard), but my dad was.”
The Union are 2-8-2, in ninth place among 10 teams in the MLS Eastern Conference. But the team played well in its most recent game, a 1-0 loss Saturday to conference leader D.C. United.
The Union also have a new coach in John Hackworth, who previously was an assistant under Peter Nowak.
“It’s a process to turn things around,” Albright said. “It’s a long season, and just like in other sports, it’s the teams that play better at the end which are successful. We have 20 games left. (Hackworth) has been around forever and he’s coached at the highest level. It’s a long time coming for him, and it’s well deserved.”
Albright and Konopka were accompanied by three young members of the Union’s front office who gave out team literature and handbags at a tent on the beach. Cara Joftis, the Union’s vice president of marketing and communications, helped coordinate it all.
The Union host Sporting Kansas City, Konopka’s former team, at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Konopka, a 27-year-old goalkeeper, showed a lot of skill as a surfer and continued to surf on his own after his instruction sessions were completed. The Toms River native and Toms River East High School graduate surfs at Seaside Park and Point Pleasant Beach when time permits.
Konopka was drafted by Kansas City and played there for a year before playing three years in Ireland. He’s in his first year with the Union.
“I surfed in Ireland, too,” Konopka said. “I actually surf to get away from (soccer). I always enjoy it. I’ve instructed on surfing before and I had a great time today helping the kids.”
Konopka is also still upbeat about the season.
“I definitely think we can come back this year,” he said. “I thought we outplayed D.C. United but didn’t get the win.”
Contact Guy Gargan: