A major surf competition with some of the world's best surfers — and $1 million in prize money — is descending on Long Island this weekend, despite the damage from Tropical Storm Irene.
Long Beach, on the southern shore of Long Island, is one of eleven stops on the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour this year — and it's the first time the competition is stopping on the East Coast.
This portion of the competition is known as the Quiksilver Pro New York, and its the sixth of eleven stops, including southern California, the southwest coast of France, and Portugal. The tour's already stopped in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Bell's Beach and the Gold Coast in Australia.
For the Long Beach community, this was to be a huge festival. But in the wake of Irene, the city's had to scale back. Long Beach City Manager Charles Theofan said the storm knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses, downed 33 trees, and swept sand from the beach — which met the bay for the first time, in his estimate, since 1938 — into the streets.
The beach was closed for part of this week, Theofan said, as crews cleaned sand out of the bathrooms and did other maintenance work in preparation for the surf competition.
But he said additional features that were to be a part of the event — including music concerts, moto-cross biking, and skateboard demonstrations — all had to be cancelled, as the city struggled with cleanup.
"We're doing the best we can, and we're just thrilled that we're able — with all of that hardship — that we're still able to go forward with the surfing competition," Theofan said.
There's never been an event of this kind in Long Beach, and the expectation was an economic boon for the city. Theofan still thinks it'll do well, and he's hopeful the event will bring visitors in.
(New York native Balaram Stack is competing as a Wildcard in the Quiksilver Pro New York, against some of the world's best surfers - Photo courtsey of Quiksilver.)
Surfer Mike Nelson, a co-owner of the Long Beach surf shop Unsound, said he was disappointed to hear that some surrounding events were cancelled, but he's still excited that the surfing competition is going forward.
He said an event of this scale, and at this location, is unprecedented for Long Beach.
"Locally and regionally, I think Long Beach is regarded fairly highly in the surfing world," he said. But it's a different story on a global scale, especially when compared with the major surf beaches on this year's tour. He's confident the competition will bring greater recognition to the surfing community of Long Beach.
In a statement issued earlier this week, Quiksilver expressed enthusiasm for the competition, despite setbacks due to Irene.
"The situation has been changing daily, and we recognize that City resources are focused on hurricane restoration and clean up as a first priority," it read. "The Quiksilver Pro NY is first and foremost about the surf contest and Long Beach has an incredible surfing tradition and spirit. We are committed to holding the ASP tour event at Long Beach so that together we can promote the sport by bringing together the best surfers in the world to this terrific community."
Surf events are set to begin on Sunday, if the surf is good. Nelson's shop is sponsoring the trial events of the competition. That's where amateur surfers compete against each other, for a chance to surf with the pros in the main competition. He said some locals, including two New Yorkers and a competitor from New Jersey, are slated to vie for that coveted spot.
The main competition is set to begin in earnest on Monday, again, if surf conditions are good. That's when the competition's "holding period" starts. Organizers need to select four competition days within that window for this leg of the tour.
The competition whittles the surfers down based on the difficulty, variety, speed, and combination of their maneuvers.
The 2011 World Tour wraps up in Hawaii in December, where the champion will be crowned.
Quiksilver asked some New Yorkers what they thought about surfing in NYC. You can watch below.