Surf and The City

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New York is known for many things but probably not for surfing. But as we found out recently at Quiksilver Pro New York 2011, the waves and the action here can get quite epic. With the top guns of surfing converging at Long Beach to duke it out, it was an amazing event that saw more than a 100,000 spectators over a week of madness. And to think just a week prior to the event, the massive surf contest was almost called off. Thank you, Irene.

After the nightmare hurricane had past, city officials were still jumpy and understandably so. However, as 10-time World Surfing Champ, Kelly Slater, lamented during our interview, “Surfers are the only group of people that see a hurricane and get excited – more than a newscaster.” Irene had subsided and brewed from a full blown hurricane to a tropical storm – creating huge waves miles away in the Atlantic Ocean that headed towards Long Beach – a Heaven-sent for the surfers.

Local surfers and fans alike spoke up against the council’s decision and launched an online campaign to salvage the event. This being America – the Land of the Free – the public got their wish and Quiksilver Pro New York 2011 went on. Power to the People!

The decision was made not without regrets. The concert section of the event was still cancelled. We almost cried when we learnt that the lineup which included big names like The Flaming Lips, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Interpol, Taking Back Sunday, Q-Tip, Wavves, The Black Lips and Neon Indian, weren’t playing. A couple of acts still managed to make appearances at smaller gigs throughout the event though. Most notable were Q-Tip who spun a DJ set at the After Party; Knee Deep – an offshoot of The Black Lips who played at the Monster Children + Mollusk Surf + QS Girls Party at Union Pool, Brooklyn; and the legendary Mike D of the Beastie Boys who made a surprise appearance at the VIP area during the Finals (Mike D also instigated and hosted the impromptu, inaugural Quiksilver Hola-Hoop Contest – just cause he’s crazy like that).

Days before the opening ceremony, things were already getting heated up. All-time favourite skateboarder, the Birdman himself, Tony Hawk was in town doing a tour with other high-profile ska8ers. Among them was a 14-year old kid who surprised us with his gravity-defying antics.

In Manhattan, at the Pier 54, a giant ramp was erected for Quiksilver Presents Tony Hawk Vert Jam. A huge turnout of skateboarders ensued. Tony and co skated for about 2 hours straight, pulling off tricks and stunts that would leave our jaws dropped for the remainder of the trip. The next day, they visited a nearby skatepark for a more intimate but equally spectacular show of mad skating skillz.

Making its world-premiere as well at the Beacon Theater in the midst of Quiksilver Pro NY was The Art of Flight. The snowboarding documentary-cum-feature film followed the adventures and misadventures of Travis Rice and his certifiably-insane companions as they took snowboarding to another level. Set against the backdrop of pure-white mountain slopes and a hardcore dubstep soundtrack, this crazy crew did bada$s stunts across the world that would make Spiderman jealous!

With a mantra to shred where no man has shredded before, we’re talking about 60-foot cliffs dives and taking down tree branches in mid-air with snowboards here. At a time when we as people seem to need constant reminding of how lucky we are to have such natural beauty in our world, this movie did so in the vein of classics like Endless Summer. It was just as much a celebration of Mother Nature as it was of the sport. And the audience welcomed it. The whole cinema had a major rock show vibe to it with people screaming and chanting (oh yeah, some dude named Justin Timberlake was in the crowd too). Little known to outsiders, just an hour’s drive from New Jersey are some of the best skiing and snowboarding spots on the East Coast, as related to us by a fan we met at the premiere. No doubt, snowboarding is huge here.

JUICE also had the chance to hang ten with Stephanie Gilmore, 4-time World Women’s Surfing Champion. Stephanie was supposed to show us around the city, but bad weather got the most of us and we were forced to limit our city tour to a bakery called Magnolia at SOHO where we had the best cupcakes of our lives.

Back at Long Beach, it was time for the competition to start. After a traditional Hawaiian blessing at the opening ceremony the day before, it was time for the top surfers of the world to bring their game. Heat after heat went on with surfers knocking each other out throughout the week until it was down to the final two. From 36 surfers (plus Wildcard winner Asher Nolan), it was just down to the undisputed World Champ, Kelly Slater, and fresh blood from Down Under, Owen Wright.

Unlike many competitive sports where the objective is to score goals or beat the crap out of each other, surfing competitions are rated on style, control and innovation. At the same time, surfers are battling it out not just with each other but with the waves as well. Each wave is different and critical turns on different parts of the wave scores you extra points.

In the end, Owen snagged a surprise victory over Kelly who snapped his board on the last wave in the Finals and ended up with a nasty bruise. Owen caught about 6 tailspins towards the end which gave him the lead. Overall, Owen won this leg of the World Title, but the challenge continues as the contest moves on to its next location. Before Quiksilver Pro New York, Kelly was on top of the pack and Owen ranked at #4. All the best for the next round, dudes!

The trip was coming to an end and we were totally stoked from the experience. After the Finals, there was a special contest between New York’s Bravest and New York’s Finest. It was a great feeling watching Firemen and Cops, people who normally defend and protect you, hanging loose and surfing together. Just goes to show, surfing is more than just a sport. It’s a way of life.

Special thanks to Quiksilver, Unsound Surf, Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP), Mollusk Surf and the City and People of Long Island, NY. See y’all next year!