Ocean City surfer Rob Kelly always had performed well at the Vans Pro East Coast Surfing Championships in Virginia Beach, Va.
In 2004, the 22-year-old won the amateur Junior Men's competition and took second in the Junior Pro.
A year later, he repeated his amateur win, and in 2007 aced the Junior Pro.
Last year, Kelly made the quarterfinals of the four-star event, one of his best pro results ever. He advanced out of round three right behind Kolohe Andino, of San Clemente, Calif., who won the event and went on to qualify for the 2012 Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour.
But on Tuesday, Kelly lost in this year's Pro event in heat nine of round one to Nick Fowler of California and Ryan Briggs of Florida. Michael Ciaramella, of Stone Harbor, surfed round one of the Junior Pro on Monday but did not advance.
The ECSC is this year's only ASP qualifying event on the East Coast. Therefore it's the closest chance for New Jersey-based surfers to gain ratings points. ASP events are broken down into three categories - World Tour, Prime and Star events. The Star events are rated one through six, with six carrying the most points and a $155,000 purse.
Because it is a six-star event, the Vans Pro attracted some of the top surfers in the world. And with only 144 slots, Kelly was the only local with enough points to gain entry.
"You mostly have a lot of top-tier guys who are trying to qualify for the tour next year. This year will be a little more serious competition," Kelly said in a telephone interview before competing Tuesday. "And the guys like me at the bottom half of the draw are just looking for an opportunity to qualify for bigger star events. This is the only chance we have on the East Coast."
Kelly, a goofy foot surfer (keeps his right foot forward) who rides and works for Billabong, earned points to qualify for this year's contest at two smaller Vans events in California in the spring of 2011 and last year's performance at Virginia Beach.
"The hardest part is just getting a few points. You can't get points unless you do events. You start with the two- and three-stars, but even to do those you have to travel to Brazil, El Salvador and Mexico. This is an opportunity to compete without having to fly anywhere," Kelly said.