ATLANTIC CITY - As the sun crept over the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday morning, surfers stood with their boards waiting for a signal.
They had on wetsuits to fight against a brisk wind and the cool ocean temperatures.
Four surfers ran into the water in front of Caesars Atlantic City and the inaugural two-day Surfing America's Prime Series began. The competition, which was organized by the AC Surf Club, continues today from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. in front of Caesars and Trump Plaza.
"It's good to see a lot of new faces," said Nick Retkowski, an 18-year-old from Somers Point. "This is better competition and a higher level of surfing."
The event started at 7 a.m., with more than 100 amateur surfers 18 or younger.
Many parents brought trucks onto the beach next to The Pier Shops at Caesars. The surfers changed in or next to their cars as they readied to hit the water.
The waves were suitable for the riders, and parents were pleased with the set-up for the first-year competition.
"This is great because it mimics the way professional events are run," said Nancy Ruppert, whose 16-year-old daughter, Emily, came up from Florida to compete. "There are a lot of events that aren't like that. It's a good way to get them ready for beyond this."
Many see this as a stop they would like to add to their East Coast tour when it comes to surfing.
Pat Schmidt, 16, of Manasquan, goes to Florida, California and Hawaii for competition. So a simple drive down the Garden State Parkway was welcomed after having to wake up in the wee morning hours.
"This is a lot easier for us," said Schmidt, whose father, Larry, taught him to surf when he was a child. "I've had a couple of contests here, but this is bigger than anything before."
Retkowski and his friends from Atlantic and Cape May counties like seeing riders who compete year-round in bigger competitions such as this one.
Before Retkowski went to Rowan University, he surfed every day with his friends in and around Ocean City. Now, he only gets to do it three to four times a week.
However, he loves watching the surfers from Florida. They have cleaner rides, and he knows they have gotten lessons throughout their lives.
Retkowski taught himself to surf. He just got on a board and took tips from others when he was out in the water. Now, he gives lessons to others at Heritage Surf and Sport in Sea Isle City.
"You learn from your mistakes out there and see what others are doing," Retkowski said. "Just having other kinds of surfers out there makes it fun."
Although there weren't many spectators beyond family members - even one passing the time by doing a Word Search - the atmosphere was similar to other surfing events, Sharlyce Peterson of Wildwood Crest said.
Peterson's daughters, Maddie, 13, and Anna Mae, 10, travel up and down the East Coast to different surfing contests.
They all pretty much look the same with music and a judges area. However, they run into the same people over and over.
"They have friends all across the country," Peterson said. "There is a big family in the surfing network."
Summer competitions tend to draw more people to the beach to watch the surfing. Many people are already out, and it gives them something extra to do while catching some rays.
In the middle of October, there were few people enjoying the beach, although many expected more visitors today during the championship rounds of the event.
But no one was complaining about any of it.
In fact, Ruppert and Peterson loved the way everything was run at the event.
The location provided an extra convenience they don't normally get at other competitions.
"Sometimes, you can't even find a bathroom," Peterson said.
But with the Boardwalk just steps away, family members and surfers had everything they needed within walking distance.
"As a venue, I think this is great," Ruppert said. "There are very few places like this that you have everything you need."
Contact Susan Lulgjuraj: