Local paddlers take on world champs in the waves


Around 30 paddleboarders gathered on Crystal Pier Saturday, April 18, basking in the late afternoon sun warming the beach after a morning of cool drizzle. As the group awaited the awards ceremony of the Wrightsville Beach SUP Surf Pro/Am, friendly banter filled the air, the onetime competitors now simply friends, family and fellow wave-riders.

The contest, held all day on the south side of Crystal Pier, was a part of a four-day Waterman Festival to fund Wrightsville Beach Museum of History’s newly formed Waterman Hall of Fame.

The competition showcased the variety of styles within the realm of paddle surfing, which, in itself, is a branch of paddleboarding separate from the flatwater racing Wrightsville Beach more frequently hosts.

Many of the divisions demonstrated the more slashing, radical style of paddle surfing on shorter boards. Brother and sister Izzy and Giorgio Gomez swept the men’s and women’s pro categories. Despite the rainy, more disorganized conditions earlier in the day, the siblings from Jupiter, Fla.,  racked up points from the judging panel with carves and turns, using their paddles like rudders to steer their heavy boards up and down the face of the wave.

The talented pair from Florida was not the only sibling duo participating. Local paddleboarder Jenna Blackburn competed in the grommet division while her older sister Anna finished third in the pro final. Anna Blackburn’s efforts in representing Wrightsville Beach against some of the best paddleboarders in the world earned her the title of Carolina BAMF — or best amateur finisher. On the men’s side, that prize went to Jarrod Covington.

Finishing second and fourth behind Giorgio Gomez in the men’s pro final were two brothers from Florida, Fisher and Kieran Grant. Fisher Grant, who also took second place in the SUP longboard division, earned the $500 Newkirk Waterman Award for his mastery of both surfing styles. Event organizer Haywood Newkirk presented the award in honor of his father, who was an avid Wrightsville Beach waterman.

Grant and the other longboard finalists demonstrated the more retro style of surfing on boards longer than nine feet. They earned points for maneuvers like slow, smooth carves, cross-stepping and nose-riding.

Three-time world longboard champion Colin McPhillips won the division in the last heat of the day, taking advantage of the improving conditions.

“The sun came out and the waves got the best they were all day for our longboard final,” said McPhillips, who traveled with his family from San Clemente, Calif. for the competition.

His sons Dax and Kai — miniature, tow-headed versions of their father — competed in the grom division. McPhillips said he and his family flew in for the weekend because they enjoy Wrightsville Beach and its vibrant paddleboard community.
“This is the East Coast paddle capital,” he said, “right here at Wrightsville Beach.”

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BAMF (Best Amateur Finisher) award: Anna Blackburn and Jarrod Covington
Newkirk Waterman Award: Fisher Grant

Pro Men
1st: Georgio Gomez
2nd: Fisher Grant
3rd: Mo Freitas
4th: Keiran Grant

Pro Women
1st: Izzy Gomez
2nd: April Zilg
3rd: Anna Blackburn
4rd: Ryan Dadds

Longboard Final
1st: Colin McPhillips
2nd: Fisher Grant
3rd: Chris Hill
4th: Billy Miller

Amateur Women
1st: Ryan Dadds
2nd: Beth Lovett
3rd: Nancy Salter
4th: Jo Pickett
5th: Cindy Stokes

1st: Betsy Lewis
2nd: Saylor Emmart
2nd (tie): Dana Stephens
4th: Jenna Blackburn

1st: Kai McPhillips
2nd: Dax McPhillips
3rd: Daniel Joye
4th: Hayden Anderson

Amateur Men
1st: Phillip Antman
2nd: TR Hipp
3rd: Brycen Jernigan
4th: Kole Ulveling

Masters Final
1st: Dave Daum
2nd: Craig Stephens
3rd: Randy Harris
4th: Bill Moseley

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