Australian Wins Surfing Competition

Australian Owen Wright won the first ASP World Tour surfing competition held in New York. Wright beat out Kelly Slater, a ten-time world champion surfer, for the $300,000 prize.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: The hurricane-roiled waters of the Atlantic Ocean provided perfect conditions this week for pro surfing. The Association of Surfing Professionals' World Tour set up camp on Long Island, New York, for the first time. They did it deliberately during hurricane season, and the Quicksilver Pro New York competition featured the richest purse ever for a single surfing event: $1 million.

NPR's Mike Pesca was there.

MIKE PESCA: Sports, subcultures and the sea all bring with them their own slang. As a maritime sport that's also a subculture, surfing quite predictably has a robust lexicon, a youngster as a grommet, a good tube a barrel, a surfer who leads with his right foot surfs goofy.

But the word that brought the Quicksilver Pro event to Long Beach had nary a trace of the goofy about it.

SEAN COLLINS: The symmetry...

PESCA: The symmetry?

COLLINS: ...is like the topography of the ocean floor.

PESCA: Sean Collins is founder of Surfline, the condition forecaster of record for the surf community.

COLLINS: The first thing that I do when I'm going and looking at new surf spots is I check out the underwater bottom contours offshore for every single spot because that's really the secret of what makes a really good surf spot.

PESCA: Long Beach, New York's secret lies in an underwater trench that extends 400 nautical miles offshore called the Hudson Canyon. It contributes to the surfable waves off the Barrier Island 50 minutes from Manhattan by Long Island Railroad.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Long Beach, last stop. Please...

PESCA: Collins pointed to the second week of September as the perfect time to surf Long Beach. Still, the tour knew that people would ask, are there really waves in New York? The PA announcers during the event had clearly heard the skeptics.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Just wanted to say what's up to all those people who said there's no waves in New York. It doesn't look like there's really any waves today. Right? Yeah, right.

PESCA: But mostly, they reveled in the athleticism and artistry of the athletes performing in what turned out to be excellent conditions.

PETER MEL: ...the bottom carves back into the power sources, goes...

PESCA: Peter Mel, a surfing analyst who once competed on the tour says that, with an assist from Hurricane Katia, the swell in Long Beach was exactly what the event organizers were hoping for.

MEL: I believe that a world champion should be versatile. You got to have venues like this as well as you got to have venues like Pipeline, you got to have venues like Tahiti, you got to have venues like J-Bay. They're all different in their aspects, the way you approach the wave. They're all different in the way you approach your equipment. They're all different in the way you approach your fitness.

PESCA: Mel is saying that in some of the tour's more traditional stops, like Pipeline in Hawaii or Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, the surfers encounter huge waves, which emphasize certain skills. The waves in Long Beach are six to eight feet, but there are more of them and they're harder to read.

Julian Wilson, a 22-year-old Australian who lost to eventual event winner, Owen Wright in the quarter finals, said the conditions were great for him.

JULIAN WILSON: I grew up in waves that weren't that good, so I mean, this is a really good day at my house, so I'm not complaining one bit. And if you want to, you know, be the best, you've got to be able to surf all conditions. So yeah. I mean, guys that maybe grew up in perfect waves, it's not ideal, but it looks pretty perfect to the size out there.

PESCA: Wilson added he was excited to see New York. He'd never been here before. Neither has the world tour, but it's uncertain if they'll be back. The competition itself was well attended and exciting with crowd favorite, Kelly Slater making the finals and maintaining his number one world ranking.

But the events around the surfing, which were to have included concerts and other extreme sports, were all cancelled by the city of Long Beach, which cited drained resources after Hurricane Irene. I don't feel we needed Woodstock descending on this town, the city council president declared, proving good science and precise planning can rebut surf skeptics, but winning over storm scarred city managers is another matter.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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