Each year at the Eastern Surfing Association’s Northeast Regionals — the qualifying event for the Eastern Surfing Championships — athletes from the Southern New Jersey District wind up finishing in the top slots.
But this year, they will have a further advantage, as the regionals will be held this weekend on the 40th Street Beach in Sea Isle City.
The Eastern Surfing Association is the world’s largest amateur surfing organization, with more than 25 districts from Maine to Florida, the Gulf Coast and the Great Lakes.
At the end of each season, the best finishers qualify for the regional qualifier the following spring to determine who heads to the big dance on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in September — the Eastern Surfing Championships.
The Northeast Regionals move around from and have been held in places such as Montauk, N.Y., Rye, N.H., Newport, R.I., or Belmar.
The ESA last held the Northeast Regionals in Sea Isle in 2001.
ESA South Jersey district directors Joe Grotolla and Lisa Roselli are very happy to be able to bring the event back to the area.
“Right after Sandy, we were unsure if we would be able to hold it here, but the area has recovered well. It’s very positive that we’re going to be bringing some people and revenue into the town and the city has been incredibly supportive of the event,” Grotolla said last week in the midst of preparation.
There will be 25 divisions this weekend, including longboard, shortboard and bodyboard for all ages, as well as Open Shortboard, and a fairly new Stand Up Paddle division. The South Jersey district has many longtime ESA competitors who have been a force, including Tom Leonik, Tom McClaren, Mike DeWald and Tom O’Brien.
The event starts with the adult divisions on Friday and the younger surfers surf on Saturday with their finals running on Sunday.
Grotolla said that surfers in the South Jersey district, from Cape May to Brigantine, do well every year and having local knowledge can only help. A local event just means that more locals will be able to compete instead of having to travel to other locations.
One local surfer to keep an eye on is 17-year-old Cassidy McClain of Ventnor. A senior at Atlantic City High School, McClain has been the most dominant female surfer in South Jersey for some time.
She is also a four-year, cross-country varsity letter winner and finished in the top 15 at the Cape-Atlantic League Championships. In the fall, she plans on attending Atlantic Cape Community College and take a number of online classes to free her up to travel and compete in surfing contests.
McClain has surfed in the Northeast Regionals for the past five years, taking two first places. Last year at the Easterns in Nags Head, N.C., she finished third in the Junior Women division. If there are any East Coast women looking to turn pro in the near future, they usually come out of that division.
McClain also twice won the Amateur event that is run in conjunction with the Fosters Belmar Pro.
“I’m pretty happy the event is here. I’m familiar with Sea Isle and obviously it’s a lot less travel,” she said.
McClain, who has ridden for Heritage Surf and Sport since she was a pre-teen, was recently picked up by global surf apparel company, Billabong. She stays in excellent condition, surfs year round and has developed serious power over the last several years.
Last winter, she traveled to Costa Rica to train and Florida to compete in the National Scholastic Surfing Association’s East Coast Championships. Her toughest competition will likely be Jessica Kwiecinski of Jackson Township, who took second at the Regionals last year.
In different events throughout her career, McClain has also surfed against boys. Most recently, she won the Open Shortboard division of the last ESA South Jersey event in Margate in addition to the Junior Women and “Wave of the Day” honors.
Grotolla is looking forward to seeing McClain beat some male counterparts this weekend.
“My main goal right now is to get to the finals at the Easterns in Hatteras. I might be able to win it this year,” McClain said.
Grotolla also says to keep an eye on Kyle Tester, an 11-year-old from North Cape May. Tester has been a standout in the ESA, finishing second at last year’s Regionals. His record also includes a host of solid NSSA results and wins at the Volcom Jellyfish event and Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation Surf for a Cause.