Surfers pay stings no mind at Wahine Classic

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A weekend of thunderstorms, small waves and jellyfish failed to dampen the can-do of the 71 female surfers who competed at the annual Wrightsville Beach Wahine Classic.  The competition featured as much skilled competitive surfing as white vinegar and true grit after many girls suffered the stings and arrows of outrageous jellyfish.

Time and time again, sting or no sting, they surfed through a series of heats, semifinals and finals throughout the weekend in pro, amateur and teenie wahine categories. This all-female premiere surfing event showcases the beauty and skill of surfing especially for young girls and teenagers getting into competitive surfing for mastery of the sport.

“I got stung,” said Callie Hertz, 14, from Wilmington, holding up her arm.

“It still hurts a lot. I want to cry,” Hertz said smiling. She placed second in girls U16 shortboard and first place in tandem surfing with Leah Thompson. Thompson, a local surfer and model for Rip Curl, placed in both pro long and shortboard.

“The waves are pretty small and short,” Hertz said. “I do the best I know how with these waves.”

Over the weekend, hundreds of people cheered and clapped, supporting family members, friends and peers.

Throughout the classic, surfers fought stiff competition, small waves and rampant stings through a series of heats and semifinals in various age categories of short and longboard. On Sunday, finals were held in these categories along with the addition of tandem, SUP surf, pro and teenie wahine events.

“The waves were pretty challenging because of the small size,” said Callie Summerlin, 16, from Roanoke. She won first in pro longboard and placed fifth in pro shortboard. “It was good competition.”

I was lucky I didn’t get stung,” she said. “One big jellyfish went right past my board. I have never heard of this many girls getting stung, but one of the great things is that all the girls that were getting stung went right back out.”
Now in its 21st consecutive year, with the exception of 2012, the classic draws local and regional female surfers from Virginia, North and South Carolina. Throughout the years, participants have ranged from 5 to 64 years old.

The Wrightsville Beach Wahine was started to promote physical, mental and emotional well-being among female surfers, encouraging healthy competition, participation and camaraderie in the surfing community. Over the years, it has become a major player in what remains a dearth of all female surfing contests on the East Coast, that include Folly Beach, South Carolina and Jacksonville Beach, Florida, said officials.

“It promotes and unites,” said Katt Neff, 18, a local surfer and college student who placed in both the pro longboard and shortboard events.

“You take this thing one wave at a time. Every wave is different,” said Neff. “Life comes at you one wave at a time.”

For the ten teenie wahines, this event offered fledgling surfers under ten a chance to show off their stuff before family and friends.  While some of the little girls were veterans at an early age, some were debuting as surfers with a little surf board push and help from their fathers.

“I can surf,” said 6-year-old Nealie Finn Ruttkay. “It makes me feel good.”

“It makes me very, very happy,” said McCauley Hoover, 6, from Virginia Beach. Her sister Camden, 11, placed first in the guppies and girls longboard categories.

“When I am nervous or sad,” she said, “it makes me very happy.”

Throughout the weekend, these Wahine Classic lady surfers competed, powered through rank surfing obstacles and had fun, thumbing their collective surfboards at the jellyfish onslaught.

“We had bunches of stings,” said Jo Pickett, event organizer and surf instructor,     “but the teenies did great. None of the teenies got stung,” she said.

“It’s hard not to be happy,” she added, “How wonderful is it to run a major event for an entire weekend and not have one complaint? It’s a labor of love.”

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