December 29, 2008: – - It seems like the perfect time to reflect on 2008, as the year comes to a close this week. It was a year that saw some profound changes in the surf industry and culture. While the failing economy did not affect the surf conditions, it certainly made an impact on the overall participation in the sport.
For the first time ever, despite excellent waves, contest participation in general was low. One big factor was the outrageous price of gasoline during the height of the summer, and contest season.
U.S. surfboard and wetsuit manufacturers scrambled to get discounted goods produced in China and southeast Asia. Meanwhile, firmly entrenched surf industry producers in China and Thailand over produced and flooded the U.S. market with a glut of cheap surfboards and wetsuits. This over saturation, and the fact that much of the glut did not sell, put many U.S. surf product manufacturers and surf shops out of business.
Rumors are already flying, about several big surfboard and wetsuit companies going bankrupt in 2009. The industry awaits the biggest trade show of the year, in three weeks. The success or failure of the annual Surf Expo in Orlando, Florida will dictate the true state of the industry.
It is expected that many surf shops, both big and small, will cut their pre-book spring and summer orders by as much as 50%. This will certainly force more surf manufacturers to either close their doors or cut back dramatically on their work force and raw material orders.
On a more positive note, 2008 was a banner year for local surfers, in both the quality of waves and contest results. For the first time in recent history, there were good to excellent wave conditions for all 8 of the fully rated ESA area contests. Our south county coastline was treated to endless days of big, juicy swells from the parade of hurricanes that marched up the eastern seaboard.
Local surfers made their strongest showing in over a decade. Highlights of the recently concluded 2008 ESA competition season included the following outstanding performances. The ESA Outstanding Athlete of the Year Award easily went to the incredible Ana Barend, who has won back to back East Coast Surfing Championships, back to back Regional Surf-Off titles, and a spot on the ESA All-Star Team for 2009. That will be a tough act for anyone to follow.
The ESA Hottest Wave Award of the Year went to Matheus de Souza for one super barrel ride that he rode to a big win at the Cape Cod Championships, held in July. The moves he made on this perfect head high tube, got perfect scores from every judge. Nothing before or after that ride has come close.
The ESA Most Improved Youth Surfer of the Year Award went to Chad Bruce, who capped an outstanding season by finishing 3rd in the Menehune Final at this year’s Northeast Regional Surf-Offs, followed by an gutsy performance at the Easterns. Bruce fought his way to the finals in monster, close-out surf at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, finishing 6th on the East Coast.
The ESA Most Improved Adult Surfer of the Year Award went to Grand Legends competitor, Kitty Pechet, who won the Northeast Regional Surf-Offs for the second straight year, and then proceeded to place 5th in the huge surf at the Eastern Finals in North Carolina. Incidentally, Kitty is the only female that competes in the Grand Legends division on the East Coast.
The ESA Most Successful Surf Program Award went to the Narragansett Surf League, where participants improved so dramatically during the four-week session, they were able to compete in the Rhode Island State Surfing Championships, the day after the program concluded. Two Surf League participants, Zack Gauvin and Charile Wood, each finished 2nd in their respective age groups, at the contest.
For the first time in several years, local Narragansett surfers dominated their respective age groups and specialty categories, and finished as the top seed in the South New England District for the 2008 contest year.
These local surfers included the following: Courtney Sutherland-Menehune Longboard and Menehune Bodyboard Champion. Katie Zullo- Junior Women’s Champion. Jarrett Parker- Men’s Champion. Ron Belanger- Senior Men’s Champion. Mike Salvadore- Grandmaster’s Champion. Peter Pan- Legends, Legends Longboard and Open Bodyboard Champion. Nick Carter- Masters and Masters Longboard Champion. Kitty Pechet- Grand Legends Champion.
On the environmental scene, the two big annual clean-up efforts were very successful. Both the Earth Day Clean-up and the Trick or Trash Clean-up were extremely busy with both regular collected trash and e-trash pick-ups. 15 tons of electronic trash was collected in April and 2.5 tons in October. 50,000 pounds of hazardous waste was picked up in April, and several thousand pounds of beach trash was collected at each clean-up. Our local Surfrider Foundation and Eastern Surfing Association members played a big role in those successes.
So maybe, after all, 2008 was a pretty good year for local surfers. One thing is for sure, regardless of the economy, gas prices, and other land locked problems. The waves will continue to roll into Narragansett, and we will continue to ride them. Bring on 2009 and pray for surf.