Near-Perfect Offshore Conditions Favor ALO LBI Longboard Classic

Contreras ‘Stoked’ to Take Win
By JON COEN | Aug 09, 2017
Photo by: Kyle Gronostajski Jamie Contreras is from Point Pleasant, but with all the time he spends on LBI and his win at the Alliance for a Living Ocean Longboard Classic, he’s finding a second home here.

It’s now been nine years since Alliance for a Living Ocean ran its first Longboard Classic. The first mission was fundraising. It gets expensive being an advocate for clean coastal waters. The second mission was to not only celebrate surfing’s history through boards from the 1960s but specifically LBI’s surfing history, bringing together the contemporary surf scene with the waveriders who had helped create the local surfing scene.

“Honestly, I’m damn proud of the way the younger generation has embraced this contest. Groms like John Hillman and Brian Aji sharing waves with AARP regulars like Jack Ryan and Bob Duerr. I’m stoked!” said Tom Beaty, who founded the event back in 2009, as he stood on the beach on Saturday watching heats and getting photos.

The event reached a new high point this year, not only with the talent in the water, but with the quality of waves. Longboard contests can be held in just about any size surf. The key this year wasn’t just the fun 1- to 3-foot swell but the wind that went offshore late in the morning.

“It’s another great event in the books. The wave gods smiled on us once again and we had about as good of conditions as you can ask for with waist-high, clean offshores and some amazing rides,” said ALO Executive Director Kyle Gronostajski.

Anyone who knows the New Jersey coast’s summertime weather pattern knows that nine days out of 10, a sea breeze kicks up off the southeast. Last Sunday bucked that trend with light wind and clouds in the morning giving way to a crisp offshore wind around 11 that blew offshore through the final.

“You couldn’t ask for better longboard conditions. I did an event in North Carolina a few years ago that was similar. But the waves were a little bigger for this. These were some of the best contest conditions I’ve ever had aside from overhead Malibu (California),” said this year’s champ, James Contreras, 34.

Surfers have to ride classic, original, single-fin longboards from the ’60s without leashes, which takes a certain skill. And Contreras certainly didn’t walk away with an easy win.

“With that kind of talent pool, I was pretty stoked to take it,” said Contreras.

There were a host of local surfers on all manner of surfboards who stepped up and had a great day, such as Island photographer John Gilman, Ship Bottom Shellfish cook Dane Nugent, Monmouth University student Brian Aji, craftsman Greg Malega and Jetty screen printer Bill McLennan, who drew solid carves and walked the nose of these heavy craft.

The final came down to Paul Kelly of Lavallette, Kurt Scheibner of Ship Bottom, Mitchell Gaudioso of Surf City, Jordan Baker of Ocean City, Chris Sanchez of Barnegat Light and Contreras.

There were plenty of subplots to follow, like the locals against the visiting surfers. There was Gaudioso and Schiebner, both past champs, meeting in the final for the first time. And of course, Gaudioso, a server at Black-Eyed Susans, surfing against owner Chris Sanchez. The conditions were ideal in the final and surfers glided along the clean walls, walking the nose and even finding opportunity for little head dips.

Contreras is from Point Pleasant, but Long Beach Island has been feeling like a second home. For the last several years, he has been surfing for local apparel company Jetty and coming down to the Island to work their events. He volunteers at Hop Sauce Fest, the Clam Jam, Coquina Jam, and helps with in-store events in Manahawkin. After winning the event, he went to the Sea Shell Resort and Beach Club and modeled for Jetty at the Full Moon Fashion Show.

“I love the community down here. Everyone on the Island has embraced me as if I was a local, just really friendly and welcoming. It’s kind of like the environment that I grew up in in Point Pleasant,” he said.

In addition to his Eastern Surfing Association victories, he won the New Jersey State Surfing Championships in May and took second in the Manasquan Longboard Classic last September. In round two, he got five toes over the nose and then 10 toes over on one of the best waves of the day. His high-scoring wave in the final was a dramatic nose ride.

“I thought I was behind the section and I just put all 10 toes out front. I leaned back and the board just carried me through the section. But there were five other guys out there that I was so comfortable surfing with. There was a lot more feeling of fun than competitiveness,” added Contreras.

While all of the women showed incredible finesse on the logs, Lacey Nichol, 26, of Ocean City showed she really knew how to walk the nose. Ship Bottom’s Allie Panetta, who was in the semifinals of the Jetty Coquina Jam just a week earlier, took second. Surf City’s Lauren Rothstein has gotten more and more skilled on a longboard each year and took third.

The Boys and Girls Under 15 division went to Ryan Todd of Surf City. Judges are lenient with surfboard qualifications for the kids and Todd navigated a steep little backside bowl on the inside.

Roman Schwoebel and Maggie Bucci, a dedicated team year in and year out, won the much-loved Tandem division.

Gronostajski has worked hard to keep the event going since taking the reins from Beaty several years ago. ALO President Lisa Braunwell was a tireless score keeper and Ken Gallant of South End Surf N’ Paddle donated much of the infrastructure and the judges. ALO's board members volunteered and Ric Anastasi MC’d the whole day.

“Not too many years back, high performance longboards almost replaced traditional longboards. Now just about every maker has a retro model and offers Volan (fiberglass) options,” offered Beaty after the event, “What’s also really cool is that a lot of vintage boards have been resurrected and put back into the rotation because of this contest. Obviously, it takes a lot of work. And when it all comes together with perfect waves like this year’s contest, it’s all extremely validating.”

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