Ocean City's Rob Kelly leads strong local contingent at Belmar Pro

Ocean City's Rob Kelly rides a wave during the Unsound Pro surfing contest in New York in 2013.

Few South Jersey surfers are making a push in competitive pro surfing beyond the Garden State these days.

Junior pro Mikey Ciaramella, 19, of Stone Harbor, Dean Randazzo, 45, of Somers Point, and 23-year-old Rob Kelly, of Ocean City were the only pros to hit the waves at the recent Vans Pro East Coast Surfing Championships in Virginia Beach, Va.

All three are part of a large contingent of local surfers competing at the Foster's Belmar Pro this weekend in Monmouth County.

The Foster's Belmar Pro, which starts today and runs through Sunday with five professional divisions, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and is the most prestigious surfing contest in the state.

In the men's division, Ciaramella and Randazzo are both surfers to watch in this competitive field of 64, but Rob Kelly is especially hot, coming off a second-place finish at the Unsound Pro in Long Beach, N.Y., last weekend.

"There were good surfers from Hawaii and California, as well as the best on the East Coast, so that result really helped my confidence," Kelly said in a phone interview on Monday "I broke a board in the finals doing an air to the flats, but I'm going to feel out my boards this week and find the one that works."

Kelly took down Floridian Gabe Kling, who was surfing the elite ASP World Tour just last year; two-time Unsound winner Jeremy Johnson; and Tristan Thompson, as well as Virginia Beach's Michael Dunphy, who won the Belmar Pro in 2010 and 2012.

He lost in the final to Ryan Briggs of Florida.

"Belmar was a stumbling block for me for a long time - even in the years that it wasn't drawing huge names, I didn't get a great result until last year," Kelly added.

In 2012, Kelly surfed all the way to the semifinals and is feeling good going into this event where he is seeded in the third round.

But he has to face Randazzo, a veteran of the ASP World Tour, in his first heat.

Kelly led Ocean City High School to four straight National Scholastic Surfing Association Northeast High School Championships and two Red Bull Riders Cup National Championships. He finished his amateur run with wins in both Junior and Open Mens Division at the 2007 Eastern Surfing Association Eastern Surfing Championships.

His pro career has included finals in ASP Junior Pro events, ASP Puerto Rico contests and a quarterfinal finish at the Vans Pro ECSC in 2011. This year, he finished fifth at the ASP 4-star Rip Curl Pro Puerto Rico and led 7th Street Surf Shop to the Oakley Surf Shop Challenge National finals held in Indonesia where the squad went to the finals.

Kelly currently surfs professionally for Billabong and also handles East Coast marketing duties while taking online classes at Atlantic Cape Community College.

This year has been full of travel - the West Coast, Caribbean, Bali and Portugal. In August, he and younger brother Chris premiered a film about their recent adventures called "Frothy Lip," at the The Surf Bar at House of Blues in Atlantic City.

"The last few weeks at the Outer Banks Pro and Unsound Pro, the waves have been better than forecasted, so hopefully we have some surf in Belmar. I'm just going to stick to the same game plan that got me to the finals in New York," said Kelly, who feels that he has a slight advantage competing in his home state.

"You sleep in your own bed at night and you know everyone at the contest. It takes a little edge off a little," he explains.

Randazzo, who was the first and only New Jersey surfer to compete on the men's ASP World Tour and won four bouts with cancer, is always a favorite at Belmar. He made the finals in 2004, has had a host of semifinal results and won the Masters Pro for surfers 35 and older last year.

This summer, Randazzo opened a shop called Jersey Devil Surf on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. He is a favorite to repeat as Masters champ and is still a major threat to surfers less than half his age in the Men's competition.

Ciaramella just completed his first year at the University of San Diego where he continued his winning East Coast ways with a win at the NSSA California College Men's State Championships in March. He made several rounds at Belmar last year and also put in some time in Hawaii this winter.

Other locals competing include Josh Law of Beach Haven, Ben Graeff of Longport, Connor Willem, Royce Weber and Randy Townsend of Surf City, Collin Gibbs and Matt Keenan of Ocean City, as well as Ian Bloch and Zach Humphreys of Margate.

They will have their work cut out for them with the likes of former ASP Tour surfer Ben Bourgeois, who won here in 2009, Aaron Cormican who aced 2005 and Brian Toth, who took first in 2007. The tournament also announced Tuesday that former ASP World Champion Tom Curren will compete.

The Foster's Belmar Pro is also the umbrella event for the ASP-sanctioned Longboard Pro and Fins Pro Junior in addition to Masters, Legends and the Womens Pro divisions.

The Women's heats are stacked with South Jersey talent. Maddie Peterson, 15, of Wildwood Crest, who took the NSSA's Varsity Women's division at the National High School Championships, pairs up against Cassidy McClain, who won not only the Women's Division at the ESA Regionals in May, but also the Open against all the men.

The surf forecast started looking up Tuesday when Tropical Storm Gabrielle unexpectedly regenerated in the Atlantic Ocean after a lackluster summer for New Jersey surf.

"It's a much sunnier outlook for the Belmar Pro (than predicted earlier)," said Micah Sklut, of SwellInfo.com, the official forecaster of the Belmar Pro, "Wave heights will certainly be highly dependent on the exact strengthening of Gabrielle, but as of now we are looking at a nice shot of southeast swells in the 2- to 4-foot range coming on Thursday through Saturday and fading down slightly over the weekend."

Heat draws, a schedule of events and more information can be found at Belmarpro.com.

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