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Ocean Isle Beach once again can claim to have two of the best surfers on the East Coast.
The East Coast Surfing Championships—the oldest-running surfing contest in the United States and the largest on the East Coast—took place Aug. 21-24 at Virginia Beach, Va. Jesse McCrery won the Masters Championship (for those 18-34) and Owen Moffett the Men’s Championship.
Michael Powell, a former Men’s Division champion, finished second in the Open Championship.
To be eligible, surfers had to have surfed in another contest in the United States Surfing Federation.
The judging criteria are straightforward: whoever completes the hardest maneuvers on the biggest waves in the most critical part of the wave wins. In the final, surfers had 20 minutes to ride at least two waves but no more than 10. Surfers were awarded points for only their two best rides.
“You want to look for the better waves,” McCrery, 29, said, “the one that you’re going to be able to hit your maneuvers on in the critical part of the wave.
“In my final, I probably caught only five waves, and I waited for just the good ones to come. I didn’t catch any of the smaller ones.”
McCrery had just a couple minutes left in his allotted 20 minutes before he hit the perfect wave.
“A big wave came,” he said, “and everybody else had just caught a wave. I was out there by myself and I ended up getting it.”
McCrery said up to that point he had been able to do “four decent maneuvers,” but nothing that clinched a championship.
“As the wave went to close out, I did a big maneuver called a reverse. That maneuver stood out.”
No one else was able to accomplish such a difficult move in the finals.
“In the reverse,” he explained, “you spin a 360, but it’s in reverse to the way the wave is breaking.”
The move secured the points to win the ECSC Masters Championship.
“I thought I was in the top two,” McCrery said. “I didn’t know if I had won it. From watching everybody else’s waves, I thought that wave probably put me in first or second.”
The championship was his third overall in the ECSC—he won the men’s title in 2003 and the open title in 2004—but just as thrilling as the previous two championships.
“I was excited,” he said. “It’s always good to be able to say you’re an East Coast champion.”
McCrery was sponsored locally by Salty’s Surf Shop and Sharky’s Restuarant.
Moffett, 18, won the men’s title in his second year of participation in the ECSC.
Unlike McCrery, Moffett had success right at the start of his 20-minute final.
“I got a pretty good wave at the end,” he said, “but I also got a pretty good one at the beginning.”
Whether they were good enough to win the title, Moffett said he “had no clue until they said I won.”
Moffett, who began surfing when he was 8, said it is important to stay calm during championship events.
“You have to relax and wait for the best wave there is,” he said. He learned that lesson in his first contests, when he was 9 and 10.
“I was super nervous my first contest,” he said. “But as I did more and more, I got more confident.”
Moffett and McCrery practice as often as they can, but consistent high waves are not always accessible.
“If you want to be really good,” Moffett said, “you have to travel a lot, because the waves are flatter here.”
Nonetheless, Ocean Isle Beach has produced many champions. McCrery mentioned four others who have won national championships.
“Even though we have fewer surfers than any other beach in North Carolina,” he said, “it is (unusual) to have that many good surfers to come from here.
“I think it is because the waves are so small here, that when we go to places for contests, the (waves) seem better to us. We’re used to surfing on nothing.”
That may have been a benefit for McCrery and Moffett at the ECSC.
“Virginia Beach is usually the flattest place I’ve ever seen,” McCrery said. “I think their waves are probably worse than ours. But there were waves (at the ECSC).”
The weather was sunny, but the water temperature was colder than to what McCrery and Moffett are accustomed.
“The water was probably in the upper 60s or low 70s,” McCrery said. “We’re used to 84-degree water. So it was kind of cold.”
And there was an unavoidable nuisance to their surfing at the ECSC.
“The sea lice was really bad,” McCrery said. “Usually you can’t see them. But these were so big they looked like little shrimp.”
Although surfing attracts little national attention or consistent television exposure, top-level surfers can earn a living in the sport. McCrery and Moffett competed as amateurs at the ECSC, but there was a professional division, and the winner, Asher Nolan, won $10,000 for three days of surfing, McCrery said.
“I have friends in Wilmington who are pro surfers,” McCrery said, “and some of them make $20,000 a year and others make $300,000 a year.”
The next amateur contest for McCrery and Moffett is the Eastern Surfing Association Championships, which take place this weekend at Cape Hatteras. McCrery and Moffett qualified by winning regional titles in April.
MICHAEL PAUL is the sports editor at the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.