Sam Hammer Takes Smith Optics Garden State Grudge Match

Hammer being lifted after the big win. Photo courtesy Smith Optics.

As reported by Jon Coen for The Atlantic City Press.

SEASIDE HEIGHTS – Since its inception in 2002, the Garden State Grudge Match has always been held at Casino Pier.Sam Hammer, of Lavallette, grew up surfing the pier and probably knows it better than any other surfer. This local knowledge proved crucial Monday, as Hammer took his second Grudge Match championship.

The Grudge Match, sponored bySmith Optics, is perhaps the most prestigious contest for New Jersey surfers. After the first round, each heat is man-on-man with a winner-take-all $3,500 purse. After six years, the regional and personal grudges have created even more history, as surfers look to avenge past losses and settle old scores.

Each year, it is run “on call,” meaning that the event director waits for the most optimal conditions within a waiting period. This year’s period ran from Oct. 5 to Oct. 20, and the wait paid off, with four-foot to eight-foot waves. The wind was erratic in the morning but eventually went offshore, creating near-perfect conditions for New Jersey.

The ever-consistent Matt Keenan, of Ocean City, came out strong as well, with a good number of vertical moves through the early rounds. Keenan and Hammer, a match-up that has become a Grudge Match classic (won by Keenan in 2007), went blow for blow in the quarterfinals, with Keenan finding two barrels on one wave. Hammer, however, answered with a clean backside barrel and a carving turn to advance.

While this contest has always seen a great southern New Jersey contingent, with Somers Point’s Dean Randazzo winning in 2002 and 2007, Atlantic City’s Frank Walsh besting Hammer in 2004, and Keenan collecting the belt in 2003, two more locals surfed their way to the semifinals this year.Middle Township High School senior Chris Eaves proved brutal throughout, beating Ocean City’s Luke Ditella and then Kevin Richards, also of Ocean City. All day, Eaves found larger waves and connected big frontside gouges. He was the last surfer under the age of 20 standing, but he went down to Hammer by a score of 12.5 to 11.

Despite his talent and surfing resume, Eaves’ career has been a series of near misses. He is often overshadowed by Ocean City surfers his age. Monday was a different story.

“When the Grudge Match press release came out on Surfline.com (popular surfing information Web site) with the names of the competitors, I wasn’t mentioned,” says Eaves, “That gave me motivation. I surfed, so that hopefully, people won’t forget.”

The second semifinal featured Ocean City’s Jamie Moran against Long Branch’s Mike Gleason. In the first round, Moran had the highest heat total, with an 8.5 and an 8.

“He just wasn’t holding anything back,” said longtime friend and fellow competitor Andrew Gesler. “He was just surfing totally top to bottom.”

For the full story check out The Atlantic City Press.