You’ve seen that Quiksilver video that’s floating around the interweb, in which they interview all these New Yorkers who say silly things like, “Psh! There are no waves in New York!” Whoever made that video didn’t have to hunt those people down or prompt their responses. You’d never know it, standing on the beach at the contest site with thousands of others, but most New Yorkers have no idea you can surf here. Most of the world had no idea you could surf here. Until now.
The Quik Pro New York is the first “elite” pro surfing competition to hit the East Coast in more than 20 years and definitely the first World Tour event in New York. New Yorkers are a financial bunch. It’s no huge shock that New York’s contest would have the biggest purse in history: $1 million. New York’s not the most consistent swell magnet in the world, either. In other words, it was a huge gamble for Quik to hold the contest here, but it seems to have paid off splendidly.
When Quik and the ASP first announced an East Coast tour stop, people were skeptical. When they said it was going to be New York, people were a mixture of intrigued, doubtful, and furious. Isn’t surfing about the waves? Why add another stop that may not produce any? Quiksilver basically said that New York is the perfect venue (big crowds, that aforementioned cash flow, a largely untapped surf audience) and assured us that the stats were in our favor to score something during hurricane season. Locals pointed to the multitude of gnarly photos that are born in the Tri-state area. I think most of us were cautiously pleased with the opportunity to prove our worth to the rest of the surfing world.
Admission: the waves were mediocre on Tuesday. I watched Rio with a disgusted scowl on my face, but as a sometimes-New Yorker and an absolute East Coaster, I found it difficult to be honest about the conditions in Long Beach. When the rest of the world gets shitty waves, it’s a travesty. When New York gets shitty waves, it’s more of a “challenge.”
There are two great things about less-than-perfect conditions. The first is that we get to see world champions work a little bit harder for their keep. I’ve never seen so many wipeouts during a World Tour event. (So, it is more of a challenge.) But I’ve never seen so many insanely high airs and technically advanced, progressive maneuvers, either. Hard work can be a lot of fun to watch–especially when even the second place winnings surpass the average yearly household income in the U.S.
The second thing is, atypical conditions highlight surfers who excel in said conditions, who may not always be so visible. Like Alejo Muniz. The 21-year-old Brazilian posted nothing less than a 12.10 until his semi heat against winner Owen Wright. His surfing was exceptionally riveting; both adventurous and controlled.
Wednesday afternoon brought in some impressive overhead swell, on Thursday, our trademark brown water was heaving, and Friday finally delivered clean barrels. No need to lie to myself (or you) anymore. New York fires. Sometimes.
Another factor in the contest’s success was the weather. It’s rare that you watch a webcast from somewhere sunny while the beachgoers suffer through sheets of rain and unpleasant, chilling wind. New Yorkers (most East Coasters, actually) deal with miserable weather on a regular basis. I’ve said before that living in New York, you almost feel the need to justify the decision to contend with frozen fingers, black ice, and temporary, inconvenient pop-up lakes. It’s like sustaining an injury in the throes of some epic activity: it makes us proud in a bizarre way. ‘Cause we feel tough. After the first two days of competition, the downpours gave way to skin scorching sun, and again, New York showed its more welcoming side.
Essentially, Quik Pro attendees were treated to a variety of waves and weather that makes the East Coast… fun/challenging/the East Coast. Those perfect waves were courtesy of Hurricane Katia, which took the perfect track and passed just off the coast.
Mind-blowing waves allow for mental performances, and at times the Quiksilver Pro New York featured some undeniably great conditions. Sure, there were wipeouts, but there were also many times when surfers performed six feet above overhead waves or pulled into barrels like only New Jersey and New York can supply. After an entire contest of liberal, high-flying surfing, Owen Wright took down Kelly to the audience’s simultaneous delight and dismay. Everyone on the beach had heard of Kelly Slater, and they all witnessed his formidable grace and make-it-look-easy vigor. They also witnessed Owen’s unbelievable combination of weightlessness and power. Oh yeah, and the making of history.
New Yorkers did their part, too. They turned out in droves. Even on the rain days, the beach was packed with slickers, umbrellas, and sopping denim. A reported 100,000 showed up to witness New York’s first World Tour event. The Quiksilver store was a madhouse all week and heaps of parking tickets were issued, so it seems likely that the monetary side of things went as anticipated.
More importantly, Long Beach brought a surplus of energy. East Coast surfers don’t get perfect surf as often as our West Coast and international siblings. But because of that, we appreciate it so much more. Known for speaking our minds, it’s easier for most of us to display emotions than remain stoic, and we gave freely of our awe and cheers.
The Tour surfers were equally generous with their praise of New York, from the city to the surf. After his win, Owen Wright said, “I walked for six hours one day in the city, just looking around. I’ve seen nothing like it before. I went to the top of the Empire State building and looked down, and I was thinking Central Park was just some small park, but it’s like central forest! It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever seen. But that’s just New York. Everything’s huge. Huge prize money, hell trophy and perfect surf.”
Listening to the commentators talk up the conditions and the crowd’s hoots and gasps was redemptive, but part of me is still uncertain whether all of this positive publicity is going to pan out in our favor. I guess it’s cold and unreliable enough of the time that the New York metro area would have a fat chance of becoming the next industry hub. I still kind of feel like one of the surf world’s best-kept secrets (or consistently ignored facts) has suddenly been turned loose. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see whether the Quik Pro’s momentum will lure enough mid-winter surfers to keep the swanky Allegria Hotel open, and whether New York’s all-time showing will bring the contest back next fall.