Every year, the Virgina Beach Jaycees, who organize the East Coast Surfing Championships in Virginia Beach, Va., keep an eye out for hurricanes.
In the past, big storms have meant big surf that led to historic contests. No one in Virginia Beach is going to soon forget the 49th annual event, with Hurricane Irene coming a little closer than they would have liked.
This year, Vans, a surfwear and apparel company, bought an Association of Surfing Professionals-sanctioned 4-star Pro and Junior Pro event to the Coastal Edge East Coast Surfing Championships, boosting the level of competition considerably. And Ocean City's Rob Kelly bought his own "A" game.
Kelly, 21, surfed four rounds this week to finish in the top 32 among international talent.
By ASP format, the top two surfers from each four-man heat go to the next round. In the first round, Kelly took second place to Jairo Perez, the Costa Rican who made the finals and won the ECSC Junior pro in 2010. In Round 2, Kelly won his heat, even beating top Florida surfer Oliver Kurtz.
Kelly's biggest challenge came in Round 3, where he again faced Perez, as well as Virginia Beach wild-card Lucas Rogers and 17-year-old Kolohe Andino, who many think has future world-title potential.
"I competed against Kolohe in junior events growing up," said Kelly who surfs and works for Billabong, "but the last two years, the hype around him has just grown. You tell yourself, he's just the same kid, but it's very different than surfing against anyone else. You know there are more people coming down to the beach to watch his heats and more people tuning in to the webcast."
But if Kelly was intimidated, he didn't show it, grabbing an outside wave in the opening minutes and laying down a smooth combination of backside moves, punctuated with a strong off-the-lip for a 6 (of a possible 10) that stood as the highest score of the heat.
But Andino kept busy, finishing two of his waves with textbook air-reverses on the tiniest sections for an 11.10 total.
"He's so much more confident than anyone else, so he can be less aggressive in the water. He surfs against Kelly Slater and Dane Reynolds in the Prime contests, so compared to everyone else at this event, he stays so calm."
Kelly wasn't able to find a wave as good as his first score but did manage to post a 4.6 later in the heat. He finished within a half-point of the No. 1 surfer in the ASP North America. Kelly's two-wave heat total also tied him with Perez, but Kelly advanced because he had the highest single score.
In the fourth round, held Friday, Kelly had Puerto Rico's No. 1 surfer, Brian Toth, top Californian Cory Arrambide and former World Tour surfer Ben Bourgeois, of North Carolina. Kelly said he made two mistakes - letting Arrambide sneak inside him for wave priority and falling on his third wave before completing his maneuver. Kelly took fourth place in the heat but still had a very impressive run, earning $900 and valuable ASP rating points.
Other local surfers
Also competing in the event were Zach Humphreys, 22, Margate, and Dean Randazzo, 42, Somers Point. Randazzo surfed brilliantly in his Round 2 heat, missing the top spot by two-tenths of a point but still advancing. He was unable to get the waves in Round 3 to keep his hopes alive.
Andino went on to win the entire event, posting a 9 in the final, as the swell from Hurricane Irene filtered in. Both the Vans Pro and Pro Junior had to be rushed, with many heats cut down to 15 minutes. The storm was expected to hit Virginia Beach tonight. The rest of the ECSCs were cancelled.
Kelly returned to Ocean City on Friday night. He said he hoped to ride out the storm at home and then surf its aftermath on Sunday. He will compete next at the Belmar Pro, Sept 15-18.