VIRGINIA BEACH — A stretch of 10 city blocks along the shore has transformed again this week for the 61st annual Coastal Edge East Coast Surfing Championships. This year’s event, organized entirely by volunteers through the Virginia Beach Jaycees, continues through Sunday. The ECSC recently passed the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach — a competition in Australia — as the longest-running surf competition in the world.
The Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach was canceled in 2021 because of the pandemic. “No matter what we’ve dealt with over the years with tornadoes, hurricanes, swamp fires, earthquakes, pandemics, you name it,” said Tony Pellino, the longtime Virginia Beach Jaycee and current ECSC general manager, “we’ve overcome those obstacles in a safe manner for all the competitors and contestants, spectators and volunteers.” Created in 1963 as the Virginia Beach Surfing Carnival, the one-day surfing competition has gradually grown into a week-long extravaganza on the beach. “It started as just a couple guys on the beach who wanted to surf,” Virginia Beach Jaycees Chairwoman Jaketa Thompson said.
“That’s kind of where we still are at the heart of. I think it was probably back in the ’80s where we started getting a little bit more notoriety, some bigger sponsors. Then (the World Surfing League) came in several years ago with the addition of our title sponsor, Coastal Edge. … We’ve grown by the grace of all of our community helping us, not just our local community, but the entire surf community.” ECSC will have it all this year, Thompson and Pellino said, with eight blocks of vendors along with volleyball, spikeball and cornhole. “Instead of just the competitors coming out, this is something that the community comes out to and there’s something to do for everyone,” Pellino said.
“This year, since the schools go back a week early, it’s really the last beach party before summer ends.” This weekend, 28 local and regional artists are scheduled to perform on the concert stage, Thompson said. The surfing competition itself will be broken up into two sections. The amateur competition started Tuesday and will take place on the North Beach, while the professional surfers chase WSL points on the South Beach beginning Thursday morning.
The finals — dependent on waves and weather — are scheduled for Sunday morning. Pellino said the ECSC is known for helping budding pro surfers gain notoriety, and fans get a glimpse of the future stars of surfing. “The South Beach is the World Surf League pros; that’s where you get all the up-and-comings that if you don’t recognize the name yet, you very likely soon will,” Pellino said.
“We’ve had pros like Nat Young, Kanoa Igarashi, Kelly Slater have (all) surfed here at this event. … So as as you come up, you kind of gotta win here, make a name for yourself, and then sponsors will start looking at you and then move up in the (WSL) rankings.” Pellino and Thompson said surfing pros are expected from all over the world, including Japan, Panama, Barbados and Costa Rica. Last year, Jet Schilling and fellow Californian Alyssa Spencer took home the WSL Qualifying Series wins in the men’s and women’s competitions, respectively. Before 2022, the ECSC had never featured a women’s QS competition, making Spencer’s win historic. “It was obviously really important last year and we’re so excited to have it back,” Thompson said of the women’s QS competition.
“I think a lot of times female surfers get overlooked, but they’ve been such a vital part of this event since its inception. I was going through some old footage (Sunday) and saw the women’s competition from 1965, and some of those women are still around and they’re legends, and I’m just so happy that they’re on a grand scale now.” Michael Sauls, email@example.com, (757) 803-5774