Friday, December 29, 2006

Nelscott Pt. 2

S WIND 20 TO 25 KT.

The continuing saga of the Nelscott contest debate...

An article came out following the Nelscott contest from Laura Eberly of the News-Times in Newport…An Oregon surf contest without Oregonians? are some excerpts:

Tow-surfer Dan Hasselschwert…owner of Ossie's Surf Shop in Newport, was joined by local tow-surfers Ollie Richardson…Ryan Heim…Jay Sennewald…and Paul Bradley…and former Nelscott Reef Tow-In Classic contest organizer Roland Hoyle [in conducting] a "peaceful protest"…Friday on Coast Avenue overlooking the second annual Nelscott Reef pro surfing competition. That afternoon, Richardson took advantage of giant surf conditions and surfed the waves near the reef away from the contest area

Top competitors had been waiting since Oct. 1 for word that optimal North Pacific conditions would provide larger-than-usual waves, and for the accompanying green light that meant contest invitees had 48 hours to get to Lincoln City for the big wave competition.

On the day of the contest, passersby walking from the boat launch at the bottom of the hill at Canyon Drive Park to the spectator lot provided by contest organizer Behemoth LLC near the top couldn't help but hear the upbeat sounds of a live band coming from the beachfront yard of a vacation rental located just a few doors down from the contest-sponsored lookout, a house with banners hung from the second floor deck railing encouraging onlookers to “Support the local tow-surfing teams.”

By mid-day, a crowd of spectators of all ages - from very little people to mature appreciators of the big wave riders - had gathered in the yard to groove to the band and cheer for the pros out on the ocean while standing and sitting next to local tow-in surfers who wait all year for a day as big as Friday, and who, out of respect for their fellow surfers on the waves, stayed off the reef and watched from the cliff above, many wishing they were cheering for one of their own.

“This is a peaceful protest party,” said local tow-surfer Dan Hasselschwert, a regular surfer, of Nelscott Reef - known by locals as Tackle Buster Reef - where conditions run from “small” waves of 18 feet to larger than Friday's estimated heights of more than 30 feet.

Hasselschwert is a local middle school teacher, longtime surf instructor, and owner of Ossie's Surf Shop in Newport. It was he who, with the support of a dozen or so local tow-surfers, rented the Coast Avenue house for the day of the contest, made up the banner, brought in the band, and invited anyone interested to come on over and watch the waves from the yard as a way of bringing attention to what numerous local tow-surfers perceive as a flaw in the organization of the fledgling contest - a flaw they strongly feel can be remedied while the event is still in its formative years.

Showcasing Oregon's best

The Nelscott Reef Tow-In Classic, which just enjoyed a successful second year, is a professional surf competition for invited participants only. It is also the only pro surf competition in Oregon and the only pro tow-in surf competition in the continental United States.

When organizers implement a contest area over a local surfing area, protocol within the international surfing community encourages the inclusion of selected local surfers who represent the best athletes among those who regularly surf the contest break; while the locals may not be on the professional competition circuit, they possess the experience of having surfed the contest area for years, as is the case with numerous surfers of the Nelscott Reef break.

Behemoth LLC - the contest host organization led by frontman John Forse, owner and operator of the Nelscott Reef Surf Shop in Lincoln City - invited two local tow-in teams to participate in the inaugural contest and again invited two teams to participate in Friday's event. Because of the way the teams were selected, however, the local invitees chose not to participate in this year's contest.

Contrary to numerous expressions of frustration voiced by area surfers, Forse contends “there is no controversy. It's an invitational. The whole thing is an invitational,” he told the News-Times. “There's no organization (in place) that has rankings or anything like that.”

This absence of some form of consensus selection process was the crux of Friday's peaceful protest and is the aspect of the contest local tow-surfers would like to see changed.

Currently, contestant selection is at the discretion of Forse with input from Behemoth LLC partners Adam Wagner and Jim Kusz. During the Ossie's Surf Shop house party on Friday, many regular Nelscott Reef surfers said they would like tow-surfers whom the locals believe best represent Oregon's tow-surfing community included in the contest, rather than see the slots reserved for locals given to participants based on no other criteria than whether Forse believes them to be qualified.

Inviting locals to participate in surf contests is a tradition “that is done in some cases,” Forse said. “However, this is a little bit different circumstance than a lot of contests because this is such a dangerous sport, there are lives on the line. I'm not going to throw somebody out there who I don't think can survive a wipeout on a 30-foot wave. If they think they're much greater than they are and I don't think they are, I'm not going to put them out there. These waves are dangerous, people die, and if somebody misinterprets that as a lack of courtesy - I'm not just going to throw a bunch of amateurs out there because they think they're ready and they're not.

“Two teams were. They were marginal, but as a courtesy I invited them,” Forse continued, adding he feels “there are very few qualified individuals around here that belong out there in the first place.”

Local tow-surfer Ollie Richardson, a longtime surfer and surf instructor and teacher at Newport High School, has been tow-surfing the reef for several years. He admitted that, on a different note, many local surfers would rather not see the competition take place at all.

“It's not that we don't want anyone to come up here and experience it and have a great time, it's that the local people miss out on one of potentially only five or six days out of an entire year when it's good,” Richardson told the News-Times. “It was kind of unfortunate, if the contest wasn't going on I would have been out on the reef towing where the pros were towing on the local break. We're losing a day. There could end up being only three days where it breaks all day long, and in fact Friday could have been the best day of the whole winter season, and the locals couldn't tow it because they weren't in the contest. It's a really big issue for all the locals around here.”

Richardson and Hasselschwert emphasized, however, the issue at hand is not whether or not the contest exists - both recognized that Oregonians seem excited about the competition and enjoyed seeing the exhibition - but rather that local surfers' inclusion in the contest is at the whim of one or two organizers and does not necessarily represent the best of Oregon's tow-surfing community.

“In a best case scenario there would be a non-biased way to select two teams from the area to compete in the contest and I think the way to choose those teams would be that everyone who surfs out there on a regular basis, who knows each other and how they surf, do a poll,” Hasselschwert said. “Do a poll of those people, the people who are actually out there. They can decide. What's important is what the group as a whole really wants.”

“To figure out the teams that best represent Oregon and the sport of tow-surfing,” added Richardson.

“For future generations of this contest, there should be a fair, unbiased, and competitive way to be included in the competition,” Hasselschwert said. “I'd like to see us in the same house with the same band cheering on Oregonians in next year's contest.”

Here is Hasselschwert’s response to Adam Wagner and Forse’s comments:

Oregon tow-surfer Dan Hasselschwert on Nelscott comp

Big Wave News

Local Oregon Towsurfer, Dan Hasselschwert responds to Adam Wagner, Organizer of Nelscott Tow-In Event

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 21 December, 2006 : - - The response from Adam Wagner and the organizers of the invitation only tow surfing event to the News Times showcased the reasons local tow surfers are upset about how event organizers have treated them. The event organizers do not surf, they do not tow surf, obviously they do not know what kind of wave Nelscott is or who is consistently surfing each and every ride able swell.

Adam Wagner does not own a jet ski nor has he ever even been to Nelscott reef, I don’t even think he has a wetsuit. He is a non-surfer who lives somewhere away from our coastal community and is trying to cash in on the tow-in event. What makes him an authority on tow surfing then? Or Tackle Buster reef (which he inaccurately refers to as Nelscott)? Adam, who told you about the dangers of this wave?

I have personally ridden waves up to 40ft. tall, ten feet larger than this years contest and 15-20ft larger than the 2005 event. For the past 3 to 4 years local tow surfers have had amazing rides as well as brutal wipe outs which you can see for your self in the video section of my web site and we keep coming back for more!

This is why we live on the coast, surfing and tow surfing are our passions and our lives. We know first hand what the excitement of making a bottom turn on a 30ft.+ wave feels like as well as what it feels like to wipe out on one, do you? Adam accused the News Times editor of twisting the facts in his letter, but Adam did a good job of twisting them himself. Adam implied that of the 6 tow surfers in the area, all were invited. That is simply not true.

There are at least 10 individual tow surfers who are regulars at the reef and I know of 3 who were invited with strings attached. Adam might know that if he had actually been to the reef to see what is going on the 364 days of the year he is not promoting his contest/business.

He mentioned that local teams were invited but chose to drop out, Adam how much time have you invested in finding out why? Amateur golfers would kill for a chance to share a few holes with Tiger Woods, wouldn’t local tow surfers also like to surf along side their heroes as well? Isn’t that exactly what the local tow surfers are lobbying for?

Adam and his organization seem to have a few talking points that consistently come up when asked why they would exclude locals from their competition. The safety issue is a joke. How can you say it is not safe for the people who tow surf the reef on a daily basis to be out there?

That is ridiculous! I realize any wave is dangerous and I have a ton of respect for both the large waves of Tackle Buster Reef and the mighty north Pacific Ocean but I think you are trying to promote this wave as one of the heaviest or scariest waves in the world, it simply is not. Have you even seen Teahupo’o, Jaws or Mavericks on a similar sized swell? Our wave here in Oregon is one of the most user friendly tow surfing waves in the world.

If safety is your concern why would you ask local tow surfers to team up with people who they have never towed with before? If you understand anything about tow surfing you realize, it is a team sport and it is not safe to choose your partner the day of the contest. Tow-in surfing takes many long hours of training, practice and communication in order to develop a consistent routine, that is how the locals are able to ride these waves all winter long, safely.

Instead of echoing the insults and spun facts of your organizations previous arguments (“It’s my contest I can do what I want”, “locals are not good enough” and my personal favorite “you guys were all invited” while saying at the same time “your not safe enough”) how about trying to learn why two of the top pros in your contest, Flea and Brad Gerlock specifically questioned and encouraged you to let locals in to the contest during the event dinner (The event dinner theme was “The Brother Hood of Surfing, ironic?).

Finally you mentioned the audacity of a local team offering tow surfing lessons, this just demonstrates how little you know about the sport you are trying to represent. When I bought my wave runner the first thing I did was to go take lessons from someone who had experience tow surfing (Craig Spujt, the first person to ever let go of the rope at Tackle Buster Reef), because safety is important to me.

I have shared that knowledge with all of the local tow surfers in Lincoln County and the result has been no accident, no injuries. Lessons are a good idea whenever someone is starting a new sport, especially tow surfing! You and your organization are not trying to promote the sport of tow surfing or the local community, you are simply trying to re-write reality to fit your business plan.

You may have the wool pulled over some peoples eyes, but thanks to honest reporting in the News Times, the people of Lincoln County now know both sides of this story.

And the continuing discussion on the OSP:

…Dan was 'being nice' on how he characterized how Forse treated the Oregon contingent. Says heaps about his strength of character for sure. Some of the dirtiest and underhanded crap I've ever heard going on in our state.

…[Dan] really could [have] embarrased John if he [had] wanted. It’s not like there wasn’t plenty of TV cameras and journalists there to really throw gas on the fire. I’d say he held back…

If Oregon Surf wants this contest to be Oregon First then You all (meaning all those who are complaining) should step in and make it an Oregon only or at least Oregon Priority contest.

Oregon surfers not involved? It would take away the limelight from the one organizer that surfs.

If I hear anyone call Forse ‘the Jeff Clark of Nelscott’ one more time I'm going to lose it. Clark made Mavericks famous by dominating it. Forse made Nelscott famous by being defeated by it.


Anonymous said...

You seem to know a lot about surfing! I'm new to the sport and am looking for a place in oregon to do paddle surfing - know of anything, and if you do would you be interested in doing an email interview about it for an article I am writing?

Doc said...

If you are serious...

You can contact me via the OSP...

I know absolutely nothing about surfing...

If you are not serious...

All the same applies...