Big wave contest goes off with a twist

The Nelscott Pro contest. (Photo courtesy Jon Monroe)

LINCOLN CITY — A big-wave war between rival surfing groups was avoided Saturday when one organizer pulled out, leaving the battlefield to promoter Gabe Smith’s Nelscott Pro contest.

About two dozen male and female competitors rode a subdued wave at Nelscott Reef, splitting a $10,000 purse. Smith hailed the event as a success, but claimed interference by the opposing group, city officials and a vendor who failed to broadcast the event on the internet.

In a surprise twist, Smith staged the event from the D Sands Motel instead of Canyon Way Park, a contested patch of public property that has been fought over by the competing contest organizations. City officials had issued a first-right permit for the park to John Forse’s Nelsott Reef Big Wave Classic and a secondary permit to Smith, who claimed he put in for his own permit last October and announced earlier he would hold his contest regardless of the pecking order.

Forse canceled his contest Thursday night, however, citing poor surf conditions. Meanwhile, Smith reserved a bank of rooms at the D Sands and launched jet skis to the offshore reef from the beach at D River. The undisclosed stratagem was so successful that few onlookers attended the event.

“We had maybe 250 people,” said Smith, who delivered fliers to the outlet mall on the day of event. “We still had permits to use Canyon Park but chose not to use it. We were never planning to launch there — we’ve been planning to do it from D Sands for a year.”

Smith and Forse have been in a war of words over Nelscott Reef for several years. Like professional wrestlers, their outspoken contempt has drawn attention to the spectacle of big wave surfing. The sport is a growing business, with contest revenues, sponsorships, television rights and cash purses based on a dozen surf-worthy sites around the world.

“Coos Bay and a dozen other surfing cities on the Oregon coast would love to have this wave,” asserted Smith, who claimed he spent $30,000 in travel and lodging for 34 competitors and contest staff to stage the event.

Smith argued the event was a triumph despite his exasperation with a videographer who failed to catch a flight from Los Angeles, spoiling promises for a live webcast. He claimed Forse canceled his contest at the last possible minute to disrupt his contest, and blamed city officials “for ruining our banquet dinner at Chinook Winds.”

Smith claimed a representative of the town’s tourist bureau called sponsors before the event to say it had been canceled. As a result, Smith stated he lost reservations at the casino and Mo’s Restaurant for the dinner and a safety meeting.

Tourism director Ed Dreisdadt disputed the allegation, however.

“I did not call any of Gabe’s sponsors,” said Dresidadt. “We were approached by several of them with questions regarding which of the two entities had a permit to conduct a surfing event out of Canyon Park. My reply to them was simply a statement reflecting where the permitting process stood at the time. John Forse/Behemoth LLC held the primary event permit and John had exercised his right of first refusal. Gabe therefore did not have a permit to conduct his event unless John relinquished his permit.

“John did eventually relinquish his permit, which cleared the way for Gabe, but at the time of the conversations, John had the permit,” Dreisdadt concluded.

Top winners of the Nelscott Pro contest included:

MENS DIVISION: 1st, JoJo Roper; 2nd (tie), Nic Lamb, Anthony Tashnick, Joseph Hardeman.

WOMENS DIVISION: 1st, Emi Erickson; 2nd, Bianca Valenti, 3rd Raquel Heckert.


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