SKIMBOARDERS ENJOY WAVE OF POPULARITY

Some of the onshore action at SkimBash in Sea Bright last weekend. (Photo by Connor Soltas. Click to enlarge)

By CONNOR SOLTAS

When semi-pro skimboarder Colton Wallace, 19, throws down his board in a headlong sprint, the crowd knows it’s in for something good. Cameras turn and the announcers fall silent. The clapping pauses.

What follows looks a lot like skateboarding: leaping onto the moving board, Wallace spins it below him with a flick of the ankle and lands the trick, still moving in the same direction.

Though Wallace, who traveled from Gulf Shores, Alabama to compete, took first place in his division, he was far from alone in pulling off impressive feats. Despite lackluster wave conditions, “A-plus” talent marked Sea Bright’s SkimBash 2012, announcer Brett Mahon said of the weekend contest.

The event drew some 110 registrants. (Click to enlarge)

Held annually at Sea Bright municipal beach, the ninth SkimBash attracted 110 skimboarders and hundreds of spectators from far and near last Saturday and Sunday.

Teresa Hayden of Olney, Maryland drove her family 3.5 hours just to see the action.

Mike Readie came from South Plainfield. “I’ve seen skimming on the beaches for years, but never this way, in a competition,” he said. Readie said he initially came only to enjoy the sand and good weather, but ended up staying to watch the competition.

From the Green came several hundred beach-goers more.

Much of the interest comes from the SkimBash’s status as a stop along Skim USA’s national Pro/Am skim boarding tour. Felecia Stratton, owner of Sea Bright’s Jersey Shore Skim Camp and mother of competitor Sean Stratton, began SkimBash as a local event in 2003. She saw the contest grow until 2009, when Skim USA incorporated her event into the national organization’s pro tour.

Harry Wilson, Skim USA’s executive director, helped oversee the two-day event. “We had competitions all over the country, and a lot of the Jersey guys come to our competitions,” he said, “so [making the SkimBash an official event] was a win-win for us and the skim boarders.”

Wilson said he has seen skimboarding’s appeal explode in recent years.

“I think it’s directly because of our program of competition,” he said. “It’s through the roof with popularity.”

“It’s like a tribal thing: it’s a gathering, where pros and others come to improve their own skimming,” said Wilson.

Indeed, many of the athletes themselves showed an animalistic drive for their sport, as did the crowds surrounding the fenced-off competition area. But the professional racket motivating each jump, each spin — the cold, hard cash at stake — involved calculated decisions for some. Two thousand dollars in prize money was doled out.

Wallace, semi-pro skim boarder of Alabama, said the decision of whether to turn professional has its challenges. “I feel I definitely need to improve to go pro,” he said, “but I’m 19; I’m getting up there in age.”

Wallace won $450 for his first-place ranking Sunday, which amount Skim USA holds in his name should he make the switch.

The SkimBash hosted competitors young as well as old. Taking its name from Hawaii’s mythological dwarf people, the “Menehune” (pronounced meh-neh-hoo-neh) division was for nine- to eleven-year-old boys. Among them was 8-year-old Shrewsbury resident Aidan Stevenson.

Stevenson, who placed third in the division, has skim boarded since three, said his mother Melissa Stevenson. “He saw older kids doing it,” she said, “and started out throwing the board and riding on his knees.”

While Wallace looks to the West-Coast championships in California two weeks out, Aidan Stevenson’s parents have competitions planned for Aidan, too, in Dewey Beach, Delaware this August.

They’re dedicated to Aidan’s progress in the sport, in spite of his age. “We will probably travel more for contests in a few years,” Melissa Stevenson says.

Sea Bright is slated to¬† host a second 2012 SkimBash on September 8 and 9. More information is available on the official website and on the event’s Facebook page.

redbankgreen summer intern Connor Soltas of Rumson is entering his senior year at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.