In the block between Balaram Stack’s home and the beach where he paddles his surfboard out into the Atlantic, the freckled 19-year-old transforms from neighborhood skateboard punk into the hometown hero New York magazine once dubbed “The Surf Prince of Long Beach” for his status as the first rising surf star from Long Island since the ’70s.
His wet-suited visage, crouching on his board under pipelines, adorns countless surf videos, walls in the Quiksilver surf shop in Times Square and the local affiliate, Unsound on East Park Avenue, whose owners fostered his first sponsorship at age 14. But, in mellow surfer fashion, he doesn’t let it go to his head.
“I never really expected it to be like this,” says Stack, the youngest of three brothers, whose first name is borrowed from that of a Hindu god. “I never thought about it becoming a career.”
The unlikely up-and-comer from LI’s westernmost barrier beach will have both his home-court advantage and his discipline put to the test when 34 of the world’s best roll ashore to compete for an unprecedented $1 million purse in the Quiksilver Pro New York Surf Competition starting Sept. 1, the first-ever Northeast visit for the Association of Surfing Professionals’ 11-stop World Tour.
Sixteen surfers from around the globe will compete in the Surf Zone near National Boulevard through Sept. 3 to earn the second wildcard spot—Stack was the first—in the competition. The tournament will then be held on the best four surfing days through Sept. 15.
“Long Island has historic surfing ties, going all the way back to legendary Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku’s visit in 1913,” says Quiksilver CEO Bob McKnight. “There is a die-hard community of surfers from the Long Beach area that goes back generations and it’s a region that we believe is an important part of the greater surfing story as the sport continues to grow globally.”
And with Hurricane Irene stirring up high seas as of press time, it seems the event’s planners chose wisely to have a world-class surf contest in New York at the peak of Atlantic Hurricane Season. So what if they’re also expecting tens of thousands of spectators to pack the City by the Sea for the accompanying eight-day free concert series, festival and skate park demos?
If the swells show up and the rain holds off, it may be tough to discern which is the bigger draw: world famous surfers or bands that sell out 10,000-seat venues. Headliners include Interpol, The Flaming Lips and Taking Back Sunday, who’ll take the oceanfront stage along with more than two dozen other acts. (For a rundown of the musical highlights, click to read “10 Bands You Must See at the 2011 Quiksilver Pro New York Surf Competition”)
“It’s gonna be like bringing Woodstock back to New York,” Kelly Slater, the current reigning surf champion, said in promos currently airing for the event. “I’m sure it’s gonna baffle a lot of people.”
Even a few celebrities are rumored to be crashing the party. But instead of three days in an open field in upstate New York, this “Woodstock” is more than a week long in a seaside metropolis. Not surprisingly, the usual smells of suntan lotion and sea breezes on the boardwalk nowadays are mixed with an air of excitement and concern.