Though he has not competed in every year of the contest, Wrightsville Beach local and pro surfer Ben Bourgeois said winning his first O’Neill Sweetwater Pro-Am in his hometown was a great feeling.
“I missed it for a couple years and haven’t always been here for it, but it is nice to check it off the list,” Bourgeois said. “The conditions were really tough and it was anyone’s game so I was just trying to find a little wave to do something on and just stay in the same spot.”
Bourgeois surfed his way into the contest finals of the pro shortboard division Sunday, July 13, to face past event winners Aaron Cormican, Evan Thompson and Phillip Gould.
After securing a wave score of 7.1 early in the heat, Bourgeois never gave up the lead and bettered his score by one-tenth of a point on a wave near the end of the heat.
The three other surfers in the heat made last-minute attempts to steal the title from Bourgeois, but with the poor surf conditions deteriorating even more, a score bettering Bourgeois’ 7.2 was unlikely.
Greeted by a joyous crowd of peers and family members on the beach after the victory, Bourgeois was lifted on friends’ shoulders and carted to the stage.
Chuck Bourgeois, Ben’s father and owner of Sweetwater Surf Shop, said he could breathe a sigh of relief after the final horn sounded for the end of the heat.
“Ben has won so many contests in the last minutes but he has also lost a lot of them in the last minute,” the elder Bourgeois said.
Despite the last-minute fears, it was Bourgeois at the winner’s podium with the first place cash prize of $4,000.
Coordinator Brad Beach said the 2014 contest was another successful event with large crowds every day and plenty of talent in the water. Although he would have liked to see better wave conditions, Beach said everyone from the pros to the guppies made the most of what was available.
“Friday was good and it was supposed to hold, and even this morning there was a swell, but once the tide goes out it seems to take the swell with it right now,” Beach said. “But as you can tell from the pro final, these guys know how to make the most of it.”
Sweetwater Surf Shop manager Jason Baysden said the contest brought a lot of business to the downtown Wrighsville Beach area this weekend and the recently renourished beach strand helped the large crowds spread out.
Beach echoed Baysden’s comment about the influx of business to the community, adding that many of the businesses he spoke with throughout the weekend said it was better than the Fourth of July.
“The merchants are involved with the contest as sponsors but it is good to see there is a return on their investment,” Beach said. “We could do this anywhere on the East Coast but we choose Wrightsville mainly because of the community support that we have gotten for the past eight years.”