Major surf contest on drawing board for Sebastian Inlet

A major new surfing tournament could be coming to Sebastian Inlet within the next year.

According to Eric Garvey, executive director of the Brevard County Tourist Development Council, the tournament, the World Surf League event would be held at the inlet in January 2018.

Garvey hopes that the tournament will fill what he sees as a void in the entire state.

“I was talking with some of my team and event promoter Mitch Varnes about how we better leverage surfing to draw people to come visit our area,” Garvey said. “As we talked through the possibility of the event, we came to realize that there’s no high-level professional surfing event in Florida now – [even though] Florida has produced a whole string of amazing surfers, including Kelly Slater, the man many people say is the best surfer ever.”

Indeed, the Sebastian Inlet area was a legendary location in the surfing world in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, as competitors rode the “First Peak” surf break to fame and fortune. The waters on the north side of the jetty groomed great surfers who went on to win eight Pipe Masters, 16 world titles and countless other championships, according to Surfer Magazine.

From 2005 through 2011 the inlet was the site of the O’Neill Sebastian Inlet Pro Surfing event, which was the biggest professional surfing contest on the East Coast of the United States.

To attract a new tournament, the TDC will put $125,000 towards the event if a matching amount is committed through private sponsorships.

Garvey believes he should be able to get that funding in relatively short order, adding that he hopes to bring the plan back to the TDC Board of Directors in the next month.

Sebastian Inlet was selected as the site for the event because of its unique surfing climate and all the surfing history associated with “First Peak.” The wave has been muted in recent years, apparently due to jetty renovation in the early 2000s, but efforts are underway to modify the jetty and bring back the storied break.

Garvey expects the tournament to be a big draw, but noted the location “does present some challenge from a typical tourism perspective in that it’s a little bit remote, and there are not a lot of hotels.”

He added that the contest will be a not-for-profit event that it will attract the major surfing stars from Brevard including Slater and C.J. and Damien Hobgood, among others.

“We would love to have their participation and we think we’ll have them,” Garvey said.

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