Reef/Sweetwater tourney showcases world-class surfing on Wrightsville Beach

by Tyler Roberts
Thursday, July 21, 2011

Professional surfer Rob Machado, second from left, claimed top honors and $5,000 in last weekendís Reef/Sweetwater Pro-Am Surf Fest. The other finalists rounding out the pro division were, from left: Aaron Cormican, third; Fisher Heverly, second; and Phillip Gould, fourth. ~ Allison Breiner Potter

 The seventh annual Reef/Sweetwater Pro-Am Surf Fest was held last weekend, July 15-17, drawing thousands of people to the sands of Wrightsville Beach to watch North Carolina professional surfers compete against world-renowned contenders.

Surfers like Rob Machado, Aaron Cormican and the defending 2010 champion Michael Powell presented surfers with a high level of competition on Wrightsville Beach.

"It is super fun," said Cody Leutgens, former University of North Carolina Wilmington surf team captain. "You see the same guys that you see in the magazines. The thought of beating them in a heat is exciting."

Leutgens competed with other North Carolina surfers like Powell, Nick Rupp, Fisher Heverly and Hunter Heverly.

"The level of surfing at Wrightsville Beach has gone so far so fast," said Brad Beach, Reef owner and tournament organizer. "All of these kids have the talent to be world-class surfers if they have the opportunity."

Wave conditions held strong for the duration of the tournament. A strong northeast wind formed a large July swell. It was choppy but tournament organizers and competitors were satisfied to have waves.

"They are fun little waves," Machado said. "We always seem to get lucky each year."

A light bump on the face of the waves created a challenge to the surfers. As conditions became less favorable, wave selection became a crucial strategy in the competition, Fisher Heverly said.

The level of surfing did not suffer in the least. Spectators witnessed top-level surfing from local and international surfers alike.

"People are either from here or are familiar with East Coast waves so there really arenít any underdogs in this competition," Heverly said.

After two days of qualifying rounds, the menís professional competition boiled down to the final heat on Sunday afternoon with Fisher Heverly, from Emerald Isle, N.C.; Cormican, from New Smyrna Beach, Fla.; and Machado from Cardiff, Calif., surfing against Virginia Beach native Phillip Gould.

Machado quickly took the lead followed by Cormican. Machado had large backside snaps on the lip of the waves. Cormican answered with an explosive reverse
360-degree spin. The two veteran professionals were tied in points at the 15-minute mark.

Then Heverly appeared on a shoulder-high wave going backside with an incredible ride that drew cheers from the spectators along the beach. He then caught a wave going front side, throwing his fins out of the water with sharp snaps and aggressively charging every inch of the wave.

Cormican responded with a backside 540 with incredible amplitude. He stuck the landing and defended his high score.

Gould also had a personal pique performance of the tournament, relying on strong fundamentals and taking risks with more technical maneuvers.

All of the competitors used different strategies. Machado stayed north of the other surfers, searching for high peaks and long shoulders. Heverly and Gould stayed south by the tournament buoy, riding every wave until their fins hit the sand. Cormican went for technical points with high amplitude maneuvers and taking large waves.

In the last minutes of the heat, Heverly threw an amazing front side 360, moving his position into second place.

Machado maintained a strong lead throughout the last half of the heat. His Zen-like style was easily identifiable as he moved through the waves with apparent effortlessness.

In the end it was Machado who took first place and the $5,000 cash prize. Heverly came in second and took home $3,000. In third was Cormican with a $2,000 prize and Gould took fourth with a $1,500 prize.

All competitors split a cash purse of $20,000.

This story first appeared online on onJuly 18.  

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