Clam Jam Still Meeting Its Goal of Bringing Surf Community Together, 10 Years InNick Rossi and Randy Townsend ace 10th annual contest
For 10 years now, local apparel company Jetty, has held its Clam Jam each fall. At its root, it’s a surf contest. But it’s also a celebration of Island surfing and the local community at large.
One of the aspects of the contest that keeps it a beloved event is the fact that it’s run “on call,” meaning the date of the Clam Jam is determined by the waves. Once the window period opens the first weekend after Chowderfest, it can be run any Saturday or Sunday with good swell and conditions. Surfers and spectators get excited year after year because of the quality waves. Alternatively, wives, girlfriends, and families have a running joke about not being able to make plans through the whole month of October, at the possibility that the Clam Jam might run.
And while the actual surfing and families coming together are always at the forefront, often the waves are the highlight – a wrapping south swell, a peaky combo, Hurricane Gonzalo or a raging nor’easter.
But in 2016, the waves would not likely be the story. That was expected when the call was made at midday on Friday to hold the event on Saturday. There were certainly waves on the way – a mix of groundswell from Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Nicole. But the wind was forecasted to be light onshore. The groundswell from the storms had the potential to be very closed out, and the rain could render the day a miserable mess.
And then, in the midst of round two, smack in the middle of the event, with a full tide, and waves pouring through, the wind completely died. It wasn’t the epic waves of years past, but considering the forecast, the waves got pretty good. Not to mention it was very consistent all day. Rain did fall on the event, but it held off until the afternoon and never rained terribly hard.
The event began at 8 a.m., with 96 surfers and very impressive surfing from great surfers whose talents are little known outside the LBI area, such as Brian Bowker, Kyle Alvare, Josh Law, Brian Aji, Tanner Panetta, Pete Machotka, Tim Raimo, Billy Webster, Ryan Kelly Connor Willem and a host of others. It’s a day for the unsung heroes to step up and show their stuff.
In following the traditions of the Clam Jam, teams were chosen at random from two age brackets, bringing the generations together. There were some classic pairings, like Connor Willem and Ron Ferrara, good friends who surf together each swell. Then there were Will Sweeney and George Jacobs, who grew up in the same Harvey Cedars neighborhood, almost 20 years apart. There was also varied equipment, like Bob Selfridge, who has surfed Cedars since the ’70s, riding a longboard, Todd Naisby riding a 5’2 board he shaped himself, and Brett Oliverio, who rode a Beater board.
Despite the weather, the beach filled up. Equity Prime Mortgage, whose loan officers surf the event, gave out branded wax and wax combs. Mud City Crab House and the Old Causeway Steak and Oyster House offered free clams on the half and New England clam chowder. Kids dug in the sand, and dogs raced around the waterline. The Clam Jam has become an important gathering after the busy season.
“I think after 10 years, it’s really obvious how we’ve brought the community together,” said Jetty Operating Partner/CEO Jeremy DeFilippis. “There are so many more friendships. The storylines are great, too. We’ve had brothers surf on the same team and win the event, fathers and sons in the water at the same time, and if you add it up in the last decade, over 500 randomly paired teams that have created that much more stoke when you’re paddling out one of those other 364 days of the year. The smiles and high fives are endless. And the amount of people who say it’s their favorite day of the year lets us know that we are doing what we set out to do.”
In the first semifinal, longtime Harvey Cedars surfer/VP of Whitesell Construction Jamie Whitesell and Mike Messler, who surfs Manasquan and LBI and recently took the reins at the Dockside Diner in Spray Beach, ousted a very tough team of underground Cedars charger Peter George and Ship Bottom Shellfish’s Dane Nugent. Whitesell, at age 46, put on an absolute display of speed and power all day, underlining his point with a vicious backside turn in the semis.
In the second semifinal, the area’s most decorated surfer, longtime pro Randy Townsend, who surfs for Jetty and heads up the Harvey Cedars Beach Patrol, and Nick Rossi, commercial scalloper on the Kathy Ann out of Barnegat Light, faced Willem and Ferrara.
Rossi has surfed nine of 10 Clam Jams and won with John Bonner back in 2010. He had just gotten back from an 11-day fishing trip at daybreak on Saturday morning.
“I didn’t even know the contest was on. My wife met me at the beach with my boards,” said Rossi from the docks at Viking Village, offloading the catch on Sunday morning.
He surfed extremely well throughout the day. He and Townsend easily thwarted their early-round competitors and then had an exciting, close semifinal with Willem and Ferrara.
In the final, Rossi’s consistency and Townsend’s countless vertical hacks proved tops. They won 15-11.5 and would raise the Clam Jam trophy, carved by local surfer Joel Dramis a decade ago. This was Townsend’s fourth Clam Jam victory, with three different partners.
“Randy is the man,” Rossi said. “He’s been pushing me to surf better since the first day I met him, when I was 12 years old. He’s taken me all over the world on surf trips and got me sponsored when I was a kid. We did a few boat trips to Indonesia. He’s driven me all over the East Coat, chasing contests and still pushes me to surf more. When the waves are pumping and it’s freezing out, and I’m toasted from surfing all day, he always fires me up to put another suit on and get back out there to surf until dark.”
Rossi also noted what Jetty has done, coming from such humble beginnings.
“The Clam Jam is the sickest event. It’s a cool team format because it’s the luck of the draw. And Jetty itself is still growing after all these years. Those guys didn’t start out with a ton of investment money like other brands, and look where they are today.”
And now the Clam Jam has been run in the first weekend of the waiting period. So local families had a great day together, and can now resume a normal life into the fall.