The surf couldn’t have been any better as morning broke for the Eastern Surfing Association’s first contest of the season April 24, as 65 surfers converged on 37th Street in Ocean City. It was a beautiful Sunday morning and a great day for the all-day tournament.
Conditions couldn’t have been better — until about noon, when the wind shifted from west-southwest to a hard southerly wind.
Surfers from Delaware, Maryland and Virginia took part in the contest, ranging widely in age, gender and ability. Nonetheless, the participants clearly had a good time doing what they love to do — surf.
The ESA competition offered 23 divisions to allow surfers to win points toward regional standings.
Local Roy Harrell Jr. was one of the event’s brightest performers. Harrell, 14 years old, narrowly advanced in his first junior men’s short-board divisional heat — placing third. He placed first in the semi-finals before moving into the finals.
Believe it or not, according to Harrell, competitive surfing has a lot of strategy: where to paddle in, finding the right spot in the lineup, what waves to catch and how to ride them.
“When I’m in a competition, I try to paddle out as hard as I can and then I try to catch the first wave to get on the score card. After that, I try to catch as many waves as possible,” explained Harrell.
He was pitted against some tough competition in the finals but was confident that he could win.
“I have beaten these guys before and they have beaten me,” said Harrell of first-ranked Vince Boulanger, second-ranked Logan Helmuth, third-ranked Wyatt Harrison, fourth-ranked Ian Tilghman and fifth-ranked Waldon Remington. “It comes down to who is in the right spot to catch the wave.”
Frozen Surf Open winner Tommy Harris lost his heat in the finals to some stiff competition, failing to place in his second tournament.
“I was out of shape. Getting in and out of the water and surfing six heats in two hours took its toll on me — especially in the afternoon, when the conditions changed and fatigue set in,” said Harris. “A couple of really good surfers (Harrison and Mark Harrell) went out in the same heat as me so I didn’t feel so bad.”
Roy Harrell Jr. comes from a long line of surfers — both his father and uncle (Roy Harrell Sr. and Mark Harrell) are legends at the favored local spots.
The youngest of the three surfing Harrells started surfing four years ago and has every intention of improving – especially since he wants to become a professional surfer one day.
“I like home-schooling because my schedule isn’t the same as the other kids. I can surf when there are waves and can do my school work after,” he said. “I do kinda miss some things that other kids get to enjoy going to public school, but being able to surf whenever I want is better.”
Harrell prefers to surf at Indian River Inlet but has surfed other great spots around the United States and beyond.
“I had the chance to surf in Florida, Cape Hatteras, and in Eleuthera, which is in the Bahamas. One day I want to surf in Hawaii — not on the North Shore, where they get the big waves, but somewhere on the South Shore, like Waikiki,” said Harrell.
Harrell only surfed one of the 23 available divisions in the April 24 tourney, so by the time the finals had approached he was a little worn out — not only from surfing but also from enduring the harsh, blustery winds.
Prior to entering the water for his finals heat, Harrell said, “I am a little cold but I’m ready to surf.”
But he floundered after the four-hour layoff and had a hard time catching the choppier afternoon waves, pulling down sixth place in the finals.
Only a handful of participants in the tournament were able to win points for their regional rankings. But none of the surfers came away a loser. Surfing is unlike most any sport in the world: free and fun, and one all can enjoy, regardless of their skill level.
Asked why he liked to surf, Harrell replied simply, “I don’t know. There’s something about it.”