In 2003, Ocean City's Andrew Gesler was only 19 and a relative youngster at the second annual Smith Optics Garden State Grudge Match.

In giant northeaster conditions, he scrambled to the end of Seaside Heights' Casino Pier and jumped off into the lineup, saving himself the long paddle.

In that heat, he beat New Jersey legend and defending Grudge Match champ Dean Randazzo.

Later that day, Gesler went all the way to the finals where he lost to his mentor, Matt Keenan also of Ocean City. In 2009, he stormed to the finals again, only to lose to Sam Hammer of Lavallette. It was Hammer's third Grudge Match belt.

Today, Gesler, Randazzo, Keenan, 35, and Hammer, 30, will once again compete in the Grudge Match at Casino Pier with the state's top surfers.

"I hate getting second place at the Grudge Match," said Gesler, 26, on Friday. "Yeah, you made the finals, but it just sucks to lose there. I really respect Sam for the way he surfs and all that he's done for New Jersey surfing, but I've had enough of him winning this event."

The October contest is a non-sanctioned, one-day affair to determine the best surfer in New Jersey. The winner gets the belt and $3,500. Second place gets nothing. After eight years, the rivalries run deep.

The event is run on-call, meaning that the surfers are given a two-week window period and the contest runs on the biggest and best day. Surfers have to be ready to drop everything when the call is made.

Earlier this week, with a big low-pressure system soaking the East Coast, event director Rob Cloupe made the decision to hold the event on Friday. But as the storm stalled, he moved it to today to avoid sideshore winds and rain.

The storm has created a formidable south swell. Gesler surfed the 8th Street Beach in Ocean City for three hours Friday.

He was joined by not only Keenan and Randazzo, but Kevin Richards, Jamie Moran, brothers Rob and Chris Kelly, and Zach Humphreys - all southern New Jersey locals who will compete today.

The event starts at 8 a.m. and will run through late afternoon.

Admission is free.

Garden State

Grudge Match

When: 8 a.m. today

Where: Casino Pier, Seaside Heights

Admission: Free

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