Three LBI Natives Compete in Cold War Surf Contest

McBrien, Willem, Townsend Come Home on Winning Team
Dec 13, 2017
Photo by: Donald Cresitello Connor Willem puts a solid hack on the face after a backside barrel that helped his team win at the Cold War in Asbury Park.

When the concept for the Cold War Surf contest came about, it was a pretty simple one: to gather the best surfers from the Mid-Atlantic region for a one-day event that showcased the regional talent on a day of great waves. Making that happen was not so simple.

The sponsors were on board with money. The city of Asbury Park was on board with support. The top surfers, including three who are native to LBI, were completely on board. But getting the waves proved to be a much bigger challenge.

The Cold War idea first surfaced in 2014. 2015 was a year of planning, and the first event was slated for March 2016. Sam Hammer of Lavallette and Andrew Gesler of Ocean City, two of the state’s highest profile surfers, were named as captains. They picked teams, and the “war” was ready to go off at the next solid swell.

The Cold War directors did their due diligence, working with surf forecasting site, Surfline, determining that New Jersey’s coast sees the most swell during March. After several weeks of waiting in 2016, the event was held in chest-high, somewhat onshore conditions. The format was solid, but everyone knew winter provides much more dramatic surf here.

In early 2017, teams were again chosen, but the one big swell to materialize wasn’t going to clean up in Asbury Park, and traveling to New Jersey for surfers on the road was impossible with the state of emergency conditions. Choosing to preserve the integrity of the contest, the decision was made to reschedule.

Last Sunday, all that planning and waiting finally paid out. Despite getting only minimal winds locally, a low pressure system offshore sent a healthy swell to the entire coast. Asbury Park was chest- to head-high with bowling barrels and light offshore winds. The Cold War was on.

“I was really excited,” said Clay Pollioni of Ortley Beach, who won the event’s MVP. “When I saw it at first light, the tide was kind of drained, and I thought maybe they should wait a bit to start. But once the sun hit it, it just turned on. Right from the get-go people were getting barreled.”

The three LBI locals who were invited, Randy Townsend and Connor Willem, both of Surf City, and Ben McBrien, an Island native who now splits his time between Philadelphia and Ocean Grove, just south of Asbury Park, had all been picked on the same team by Gesler. Townsend, who surfs for Jetty, is captain of the Harvey Cedars Beach Patrol. Willem is a commercial clammer. McBrien is a noted fine woodworker with a business out of Philly.

The layer of powder on the ground from Saturday’s snowfall was the literal icing on the cake.

In the first heat, Travis Beckman bested fellow New York surfer Zack Dayton. The first of the LBI crew to surf was McBrien, who had an epic warmup session but didn’t get the waves in his heat. Young Logan Kamen of Monmouth County then beat Point Pleasant’s Brendan Tyghe.

Next up, Willem took on Monmouth County’s Tommy Ihnken. It was an interesting wave-filled match-up of goofyfoot surfers. Ihnken had some speed lines and Willem had a series of waves with numerous backside turns. But Willem wasn’t looking for turns; he wanted to get tubed. It wasn’t until late in the heat that he found a backside barrel, grabbed his rail and came out with a powerful hack. The wave garnered an 8.5, the best of the day to that point. It also tied up the competition at 2 points for each team.

“My heat started off pretty slow. Then halfway through it turned on. That barrel felt good. All I wanted was to get tubed, and I got one with like 30 seconds left in the heat,” said Willem.

In the very next heat, with the surf pumping, Simon Hetrick of Maryland found a frontside barrel to best Willem’s earlier score. But Ortley’s Pollioni came back with a deep backside barrel for a 9.75 at the end of the heat.

“I almost wrote myself off before the five-minute mark, and then that wave came. It just felt awesome,” said Pollioni.

Next, Long Branch’s Mike Gleason took it to New York’s Balaram Stack, threading his way through two barrels and finishing each with a full rail cutback before Ocean City’s Rob Kelly delivered another point for Team Gesler.

Hammer and Gesler squared off in heat 8, a rivalry that goes back nearly 20 years. Though Gesler’s team was looking at the win, Hammer took the heat with a series of vicious frontside turns.

The final heat of the day put Townsend in the water against Longport’s Ben Graeff. While Townsend waited for the better waves, Graeff kept busy on the inside, scoring another point for Team Gesler, as the team celebrated.

Each member of the team, including all three surfers from LBI, walked with a $1,000 check. The conditions had finally come together for the kind of performance show the Cold War was intended to be.

Willem, wearing a fully insulated work suit over his wetsuit, agreed, “This was the best call. There’s snow on the ground, head-high sets. Clay was dropping 9’s. Gleason was sick. Obviously, if it had been bigger, it would have been better, but you certainly can’t complain.”

— Jon Coen

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