Keali'i Mamala was having difficulty catching a wave. With the competition clock running down, he traded in the shortboard he had brought from Hawaii for a board made on Long Island.
Seeing an outside swell, Mamala started paddling furiously. The wave propelled him forward and he hopped up. With the break behind him, Mamala cut across the water, then whipped his board in the opposite direction and rode the foamy whitewash to shore. Judges awarded him first place in his heat.
Even though the water was "definitely a little colder" than what Hawaiian native Mamala was used to, he said Long Beach has some "awesome waves."
Mamala, 35, competed in the fourth annual NY Surf Week in Long Beach Saturday. The event began as a memorial for legendary surfer and Long Beach resident George "Geeza" Geiser, who died in a car crash in 2009. It has since expanded to include live music and skating competitions that end today.
This year some worried that the contest would not happen because of damage from superstorm Sandy in October. Long Beach suffered property loss and infrastructure damage as water flooded buildings and wrecked the city's beloved boardwalk.
"Could Sandy take away our beautiful beaches? Absolutely not. Did Sandy keep us New Yorkers down? Absolutely not," said event director Will Skudin, of Long Beach.
The water was flat all week, but Saturday surfers had three-foot waves from an offshore swell, contest director Rick Anthony said. "Not epic," he said, but at least something to ride.
Thirty-two surfers entered the professional competition. Some were famous in the surfing world, such as Balaram Stack, a Long Beach native considered the best surfer in New York. Others traveled from across the world, such as Australian Adam Dufner.
Long Beach lifeguard chief Paul Gillespie said the beach has been packed since the Fourth of July weekend. Saturday the shore was crowded with people watching the surfers or seeking relief from the weeklong heat wave.
"The city has done something probably nobody expected," Gillespie said of the beach's reopening after Sandy.
"The only thing we lost is material," Skudin said. "The ocean is not going anywhere. We will always have the surf."