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Wave Riders

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Reef/Sweetwater Pro-Am
Contest: 7/15 – 17
Off Oceanic Street, Wrightsville Beach
Art and Music Festival: 7/16
Wrightsville Beach Park • Free

MACHADO MAN: World renowned surfer Rob Machado won’t only showcase his skills at the as part of the Pro-Am contest, he will play the art and music festival at Wrightsville Beach Park on Saturday the 16th. Courtesy photo.

It all began seven years ago. Local surfer Tony Butler became inspired by the memory of a pro contest he attended as a teenager. He then realized the kids of Wrightsville Beach deserved to have an equally memorable experience. Butler approached one of his friends affiliated with Reef, a surf clothing brand, to pitch his vision. Together they’ve set up the Reef/Sweetwater Pro-Am in its seventh year along the Wrightsville Beach shore.

And memorable it has become.

Last year alone, the beloved beach played host to around 20,000 onlookers throughout the weekend of the surf contest. This year, with the addition of an art and music festival, organizers are anticipating that number to nearly double. The contest will take place on the beach, from Oceanic to Charlotte streets, starting July 15th. Activities for all ages abound, too, from watching the elite rip up the surf to seeing young guppy divisions enjoy their first moments of the competitive surfing world. The water spectacle will be far from dull.

Sponsor booths will be set up in front of the action, and games and activities planned will be nothing short of hilarious—one involves the systematic pouring of ketchup on the heads of participants, followed by a roll in the sand. The contest is important to the general surfing community, but true to Butler’s vision. The pros provide inspiration for the young surfers and serve as positive role models.

Local pro Ben Bourgeois has been extremely successful throughout his surfing career as the only surfer from North Carolina to have made the ASP World Tour (twice). He’ll definitely be a contender for whom to root.

As the young WB surfer and prospective contestant Jacob Laham puts it, “I may not be the best surfer out there, but seeing my friends advance in their heats and pulling for the locals is always the most fun.”

The contest will boast the attendance of world-renowned wave-rider Rob Machado. Machado is known for his laid-back surf style, and to put it quite simply: He makes it all look easy. Twice ranked among the top three surfers worldwide, he will showcase an amazing skill level and even take to the stage as a featured musician after the competition on Saturday.

In past years, when the contest was only a day event, the community would split into several different after-parties to celebrate the competition. This year organizers are keeping the festivities officially ongoing and providing attendees a full dose of real WB surf culture. They have added an art and music sector to the festival, which will take place at the Wrightsville Beach Park from 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 16th. Completely free to the public, a portion of the art sales will benefit the Hope From Helen Foundation, a nonprofit that contributes to charities which fit in with the pure motives of the local surf community.

“[The festival] is about showing everybody what a true surf environment is about,” festival organizer Kelly Barnes says. “We’re about the waves [and] keeping our oceans clean, [as well as] art and really good music.”

Others among the music lineup include surf/reggae band Selah Dubb and the soulful sounds of the hip-hop duo Fuzz & Mac. Pro Surfer Mike Losness will be contributing his vivid, wave-inspired art work to be auctioned alongside other pieces from artists all over the Cape Fear. Food will be provided by Tower 7 and Rita’s Ice for a minimal cost.

Pro-Am supports clean energy, which will be charging both the contest and the festival afterward, showcasing a huge component of the surfing lifestyle: sustainability and shepherding the well-being of our oceans. A local nonprofit, Clean Energy Events will use portable solar-powered generators. “It’s just something we felt would set a good example while helping us be good stewards of our environment,” Butler explains.

Representatives from the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher and the Surfrider Foundation will be attending and talking about the importance of caring for our beaches appropriately.

The weekend kicks off Friday, July 15th, when the contest gets underway, featuring $20,000 in prizes. Divisions include: amateur guys 15 and up; guys 14 and under; guys open longboard; girls open; girls open longboard; guppy division (a crowd favorite featuring young, beginning surfers); and the Tow-At Air Show.

On Friday evening, folks can enjoy music with Wax Lips and Singlefin at the Palm Room on Oceanic Street, from 8 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. for $5. On Saturday and Sunday, the surf contests continue, and the music and art festival will be featured Saturday only. More information and registration details can be found online at http://reef.wblivesurf.com.

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