September 22, 2010

Wicked waves hammered annual windsurfing wave contest


Hurricane Igor created huge wave action all five days of the Hatteras Wave Jam 2010 last week.  True, the waves were a major score, but the wind didn’t cooperate.

This was the third annual Hatteras Wave Jam.  Event organizer, Bill Bell of Nags Head, spent five months organizing this wave competition, and it was the biggest one to date. 

“Every year is better,” said Bell at the award’s ceremony on Saturday night, Sept. 18.  He was extremely happy with the local support from the windsurfing shops and restaurants that contributed to the event.

All five days of the Wave Jam were jam-packed from morning to night.  Each day began with a captain’s meeting at 10:30 a.m.  Then the contestants, spectators, and judges spent the day at the beach waiting for more wind in order to run heats.  The evenings were busy with instruction clinics, viewing newly released windsurfing movies, super door prizes, and marvelous local food.

The windsurfing industry lent a ton of support to the competition and ponied up some killer prizes.  The top door prize was an RRD Wave Twin 90 wave board.  Other super prizes included wave sails from Maui Sail and from Goya.  DaKine contributed harnesses and other windsurfing stuff.  ABK gave a complete pass to one of their famous windsurfing camps.  There was more, which included an SUP excursion.

Professional PWA wave sailor, Graham Ezzy of Paia, Hawaii, entered the contest.  The Hatteras windsurfing community was thrilled to have a celebrity pro competing in this year’s event.  Graham Ezzy is the son of David Ezzy, designer and owner of Ezzy Sails.  Graham is 21.

The competition began on Wednesday, Sept. 15, at Ramp 55 in Hatteras village.  The winds were light out of the northeast at around 15 mph.  The building waves were too good to pass up, and many sailors took to the waters on stand-up paddleboards (aka SUP) with sails.

The amateur wave event was scheduled for the following day and was moved up to Ramp 30 in search of better wind.  The wind switched around to the south-southwest for the afternoon at an average speed of 20.  But the waves were dumping and hampered the performances of the afternoon.  There was a ton of broken gear and ripped sails, which earned the session the nickname of “the carnage heats.”  Thankfully, no one was hurt. 

The instruction clinic that evening centered on handling and surviving extreme wave conditions.  The clinic lasted a couple of hours and was full of incredible information on how to handle the aggressive conditions that the ocean was producing.

“There is 2 feet between death and being safe,” said lead instructor Andy McKinney, owner of Wind-NC, a windsurfing shop located in Avon.

Local windsurfer Keith McCullough added that once sailors enter the ocean with their gear, they must always keep moving forward.  Don’t back up.  Getting out doesn’t have to be pretty.

On the next day, the conditions worsened as the wind lightened and the waves grew even bigger.  There was only one sailor who successfully got out through the shore break.  He was Norfolk resident Ian Stokes, the youngest competitor.  All the others were denied, including the celebrity pro.

On Saturday, only the pros were scheduled to compete. The contest was moved back to Ramp 55.  The wind had swung back to the northeast at 20 to 25 mph, and the waves came in mast-high sets.  Even for the pro guys, it was very difficult to get out.  In fact, it was downright ugly and some pros withdrew from the competition.  Only four sailors made it out long enough to ride a wave.  They were Bill Bell, Graham Ezzy, Ian Stokes, and Keith McCullough.

“Everything hurt from just trying to get out,” McCulloch lamented.  “My hands, my arms, my legs….”

Saturday evening in the parking lot at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, the awards were presented.  Traditional scoring guidelines were thrown out for the Wave Jam because there was actually very little wave riding during the contest because of the tough conditions.  Quorum polling of the crowds and contestants was the default method of determining winners.

And the winners were:

The amateur division was won by 27-year-old Josh Miller from Ventnor, N.J., with Ian Stokes taking second place and Ryan Getchis, 34, from Mystic, Conn., taking third.  Josh was the underdog but got into the finals because Charles Lategano was forced to withdraw because he had no unbroken equipment left to sail.

Pro windsurfer Graham Ezzy was declared the victor of the Expert/Pro Division.  Avon resident Keith McCulloch took home second place and event organizer Bill Bell, garnered third

The usual category of “Aerial Artistry” was renamed “Shore Break Artistry” for this year’s contest.  Gordy Stokes of Norfolk, Va., was named winner because of his nearly perfect shore-pound backloop with rig and body.

Gordy's son, Ian, won the next category of “Choice Wave,” which was simply who had the best wave ride of the event.  It happened during Friday heats at Ramp 30, and he did it after getting through some killer shore break.  He was the only contestant to make it out on Friday.  Ian is 16 years old and was the youngest competitor.

“Master Wave” is a category dedicated to sailors over 40 and the award went to Charles Lategano.  According to the crowd, he put on quite the show as he wrestled with the shore break.  The shore break won that heat and broke his equipment, which kept him from advancing.

Canadian Francois Cremer won the “Wipe-out Award” for his ability to stay in the spin cycle during Thursday’s carnage heats.  He was a real crowd pleaser.

The day after the Wave Jam 2010 ended, many of the contestants took the ferry over to Ocracoke for a fun expression session.  The wind was good and the shore break wasn’t nearly as brutal as the sailors had experienced in the previous three days.  However, there were reports of more broken gear.

According to Keith McCulloch, the waves were breaking way offshore.  It was a good session.

The wave-weary crew caught some needed rest on the ferry ride back to Hatteras Island.  With the contest over, many opted to take Monday off from sailing, even though the wind and waves were decent.

Everyday was sunny and warm.  Simply gorgeous weather!

Andy McKinney of Wind-NC said that Wave Jam 2010 was “awesome.”  There were a lot of fresh faces, and he was excited to see people pushing their limits in the challenging conditions.

“Even the people who just watched enjoyed it,” says McKinney. 

Kudos to Bill Bell for pulling the Wave Jam together.  It was a helluva lot of work!


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