Bright and early on September 9th, crowded under a tent on the beach were a group of guys and girls, young and old, hooting and hollering in anticipation of the day ahead. As the sets came in, anticipation was building. The 2nd Annual Rockaway Beach Bodysurfing Competition was about to begin.
The competition was organized and put on by two Rockaway Beach organizations, the Rockaway Beach Surfer's Association and Rockaway Beach Bodysurf Underground. The RBSA is a local advocacy group who were largely responsible for working with the NY Parks Dept. and Rockaway Lifeguards to set up safe surfing areas, and continue to work together to put on charity events, competitions, and beach clean ups. Rockaway Beach Bodysurf Underground is a group of ragtag local surfers, lifeguards, swimmers, and watermen of all types who share a love for the ocean and riding waves any way they can. Together, the two organizations helped grow the competition from the small group that got in the water last year to the all-day party it turned into this year. After competing last year, we knew we wanted to contribute in some way. This year, we were happy to help sponsor the event by printing and donating tee shirts. The event was also sponsored by our heroes at Patagonia Bowery.
In a knockout tournament of 72 competitors, the first heat hit the water with fins in hand at 10:00 AM. Contestants ranged from 12 year old kids to a few 60 and up locals who had been bodysurfing at Rockaway since well before most of the spectators were born. With a full bracket and a growing alternates list, only one of our own NOAH employees was lucky enough to snag a competition spot.
A swell pushed north by Hurricane Irma, the surrounding breaks were busy with surfers by the time the competition kicked off. By first light the buoys were registering a clean 5 ft. swell with cool and breezy offshore winds. Sets were consistent and barreling, leading to some competitors grabbing a board to go surf quickly while waiting for their heat to start.
When we caught wind of the competition coming up, we wanted to help out in any way we could. The illustration for the shirts was created by one of the competitors, Justin Valdes. Justin, an avid bodysurfer himself, wanted to express what he loves about the sport and the community around it, including its inclusivity regardless of age, race, and gender.
“What I have always appreciated about the bodysurfing community is it’s welcoming and self deprecating, humble nature. I wanted to express the uninhibited joy and inclusivity of bodysurfing in the design.”
Tee shirt sales helped to fund the day’s events, and all extra proceeds went to local Rockaway causes, including a donation fund to a local family who recently lost their home and belongings to a house fire, as well as Team Rubicon. Team Rubicon is a volunteer disaster response organization, mostly comprised of veterans, who were among the first to respond to the damage in the Rockaways after Sandy and are currently down in both Texas and Florida helping with hurricane relief efforts.
At the afterparty hosted at Rippers, this year’s winner Ryan Kent received a trophy made by one of last year’s competitors, the legendary Mark Cunningham. Cunningham, a world-class bodysurfer himself, made the trophy from what appears to be a collection of things he found on the beach with a big fin painted with a bright gold number one mounted on top. After retiring from his lifelong job of being a lifeguard on Hawaii’s North Shore, Mark has become the unofficial global ambassador for body surfing, putting on excellent demonstrations of the sport seemingly wherever he goes.
While it may be hard to beat the near perfect conditions and weather we had this year, we can hardly wait for next year’s contest. We’d like to thank the Rockaway Beach community for being so welcoming and allowing us to be a part of the event.
Special thanks to those who shared their photos and video footage with us for this post.
Footage by Brian Wengrofsky and Justin Valdes
Photos by Ryan Struck, Nichole van Beek, and Noah's own Auriel Rickard.