UNF Surf Team blows competition out of the water

Rachel Cazares

This is the first time in team history the UNF Surf Team has won the East Coast Championships.Photo by Michael Kilcullen
This is the first time in team history the UNF Surf Team has won the East Coast Championships.
Photo by Michael Kilcullen

The UNF Surf Team won overall in the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) East Coast Championships for the first time in team history April 9-12 at New Smyrna Beach, Fla. This victory gives the team hope and a fighting chance of winning the National Championships in California this June.

The men’s and women’s teams both swept every contest, including the short and longboard divisions and took overall. They not only ended the drought for an East Coast win, but knocked the six-year-in-a-row champs, University of North Carolina Wilmington, off their spot at the top.

For the competition, each surfer’s turn out at sea consists of a preliminary heat of 15 minutes in the water to crush each wave they can get while the judges score them on a scale of 1 to 10. After this heat, the highest scoring surfers move on to the 20-minute final.

Team Captain Max Mertens said the team this year has had an impressive showing of freshmen, to whom the team owes a lot of credit for this victory. Freshman Corey Howell took first in the men’s shortboard competition and Hunter Roland took second.

As for the women’s team, Emily Ruppert was the shortboard champion and Kayla Durden came in second for the division. Durden said she hoped to do better, but it was hard to be upset about her performance for long when the team was earning so many points. Durden had a game plan for each wave she encountered and ended up in a great position.

“I want each wave I catch to be better than the one before,” Durden said. “They’re calling out the scores the whole time so you know what you need, and you’re definitely trying to catch a wave that’s going to get you that score.”

According to the surf team advisor Ray Bunch, former men’s head soccer coach at UNF, the team overall deserves every win they get. Bunch moves each step of the way with the surfers and would love to see them take the “W” at the national championships.

“They’re good kids,” Bunch said. “They’re very reliable, they’re very self-motivated, and when you combine all that they’re a really good group.”

The weather on Sunday, April 12 provided a perfect day for surfing, even if the waves were not as perfect as they could have been. Despite any competition, the passion each contestant had for surfing allowed the team to prevail. Mertens said inspiration comes with every wave.

“When you’re on a wave, every wave is different,” Mertens said. “So you have a chance to do something different on every wave. You get a wave and it’s an open canvas.”

The next step for the UNF Surf Team will be finding a way to Los Angeles, California for the National Championships now that they have earned their spot. Last year, the team ended up at fourth place in the nation, and is looking to be a convincing candidate for first place this summer.

The team has started a GoFundMe account where fans can donate money to the team to get them on the plane headed out west. The fund can be found on the team’s Facebook page, UNF Surf Team & Club. As of April 17, the team has reached $175 towards their $1900 goal.

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