Sports: Surf and Skate into Fall

Chase Barclay; photo by Evan Mansolillo
Chase Barclay; photo by Evan Mansolillo

I will officially go on record saying that this has been the worst summer for surf in over 20 years. Local surfers are beyond frustrated, watching day after day for anything over ankle high to appear. Surf shops are unable to sell surfboards and wetsuits because there are no customers inspired to buy them. Even the Eastern Surfing Association has only been able to run one contest in the past two months and had to cancel the rest five times.

ESA Competition Director Mario Frade of Narragansett has the answer. “Although the weather has been ideal for sun bathers, there have been no significant ocean storms all summer. Seas have been calm since the beginning of June. Any rain systems we did see came off the land, and that is no help to create waves.”

Along with the stagnant ocean motion come signs of pollution problems. Several beaches in the past two weeks have been closed for high bacterial and fecal levels. Surfers, stand-up paddle boarders and swimmers have reported a good supply of plastic bags and bottles, Styrofoam chunks and even Pampers at several beaches across the state.


Evan Mansolillo; photo by TJ Thang
Evan Mansolillo; photo by TJ Thang

Don’t be surprised if once we do get some heavy rains, major beaches will be closed due to pollution from street runoff. It is amazing how much human pollution is just sitting on our streets, waiting to pour into the ocean when the storms hit.

Surf comps to check out in September include the annual “Catch a Curl” grom contest for kids at the Westerly Town Beach on September 17t This event is not for adults and is a showcase for our top young surfers. It is sponsored by the New England Science and Sailing Institute in Stonington, Connecticut. The “Battle of the Beach” doesn’t need any waves. It is sure to be a wild time, with surfers competing in bizarre events, surf bands playing and beer flowing at the Ocean Mist Bar and Grill in Matunuck. This annual event is always a fun time and will take place on September 24. Contest organizer Conrad Ferla has already corralled 12 brand new surfboards as prizes for the winners.

Meanwhile, the stand-up paddleboard (SUP) craze continues to rage, with SUP races, rental and retail shops popping up on a daily basis. Surfers started paddling almost 10 years ago as something to do when it was flat. The retail market is over-saturated and all over the place. You will find a SUP for as low as $189.95 and as high as $5,000. I am amazed that the sport is not only hanging around, but is bigger than ever.

The only scene that stayed hot and heavy all summer was skateboarding. The place to be was Old Mountain Field Skate Park, in Wakefield, where camps and contests went on and off the charts. Some of the top riders in the Northeast call it home, and they did dominate at the big New England Championships just a few weeks ago.

Rhode Island’s top dogs, Eli Bunten and Evan Mansolillo, duked it out in the Expert/Sponsored divisional skate-offs. Evan pulled off some big aerial tricks including multiple 360s and grinds, which had the judges going wild. Bunten, however, put on a display of classic “old school” tricks, including difficult foot plants, hitting obstacles with lots of power and finishing up with a dramatic “stair set handrail” to end it. When the smoke cleared, the judges were unable to break a first place tie between the two.

In the Beginner Final, 9-year-old Kyle Kelly stunned the field, with an almost flawless display of speed and power, easily winning that division. The Intermediate Final was almost as close as the Expert/Sponsored division, with Chase Barclay, the only female in the entire contest, giving Dylan Holtbakk a battle with her style and trick selection. Dylan edged her out with an almost flawless final run, but it was very close.

In the meantime, everyone is hanging out and waiting on the anticipated hurricane swells. Let’s see if they materialize.