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Jul 19, 2011 10:18 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Trip Of A Lifetime For Local Surfers

Jul 19, 2011 11:21 AM


That was the word most often invoked by a group of surfers from the East End who embarked on the trip of a lifetime earlier this month in search of memorable rides on mammoth waves. And they were not disappointed. For 10 days, East End surfers Kurt Rist, Java Bailey, Tripoli Patterson, Brian Pollak, Jason Pollak, Peter Gunderson, Nick Joeckel and Phillip Holme rode what they said were the best waves of their lives off the Mentawai Islands, located 100 miles off the west coast of Sumatra in Indonesia.

Considering the places these surfers have traveled in search of the best waves—from Hawaii to Fiji to Australia, and almost everywhere in between—that’s really saying something.

The trip was put together by Brian Pollak, 18, a Southampton resident and Ross School graduate who just finished his freshman year at the University of Hawaii. Pollak started contacting the local surfers who went on the trip—considered the best in the area—last fall, determined to make a return trip to the island chain after going there for a surf trip for the first time last year with his brother Jason, 21, and family friend Chris Arancio of Hampton Bays.

Pollak has been a competitive surfer for several years and made enough of a name for himself to earn sponsorships from surfboard and surf apparel companies. Earning sponsorships is not an entirely rare feat for young surfers who showcase a talent and the ability to win surf contests within their region of the country and beyond.

To keep sponsors happy—and to keep the sponsorship offers flowing—surfers are continually seeking to not only hone their skills but to do so on the best waves out there, which means finding the time, money and resources to travel to far-off corners of the globe. And getting to those hallowed spots is only half the battle. Photo and video documentation of those trips is key: landing a photo or photo spread in a major surf magazine or publication, with the surfer riding a board or wearing gear that has the company’s name prominently displayed in the photo, amounts to free advertising for the sponsor. The more that happens, the more the surfers stand to gain from their sponsors, which can extend beyond free gear to include all-expenses-paid trips and free lodging at some of the world’s best surf breaks, to name just a few perks.

Patterson, 26, Rist, 24, Bailey, 32, and several of the other surfers who made the trek to the Mentawais have been part of the sponsorship game and the East Coast competitive surf scene for several years. Pollak said that inviting them on the trip was a no-brainer, not only because of their reputations as some of the most talented surfers on Long Island but also because they were his idols when he was a young teenager first getting involved in the competitive New York and East Coast surfing scene.

“They’re people I looked up to growing up,” he said. “It was good for me to watch Java, Trip and Kurt. They were the three top standouts on the trip—they were killing it so hard. To have them on perfect waves and watching them was so awesome.”

A big part of the draw for going on the trip was the inclusion of surf photographer and videographer Matt Clark, a well-respected professional who documented the trip with high-quality photos and video footage, most of which he took with a waterproof camera while floating right alongside the surfers in the reef breaks, an act that required its own equally impressive set of skills.

While getting exposure and recognition within the East Coast surf community and beyond was a goal for the East End residents on the trip, they don’t expect to become the next Kelly Slater or Andy Irons, or to become one of the few surfers in the world lucky enough to achieve celebrity and household-name status. And there was more at stake than just keeping sponsors happy. A sense of pride was a strong unifying theme for the group, which was made up entirely of surfers from the New York area. In addition to the East End surfers, Islip residents Blake Ferraro and Steve Patsis also made the trip, while Clark himself is a Nassau County resident.

Proving the point that New York surfers can rip with the best of them was of tantamount importance to everyone who lived on the charter boat out in the ocean for the week-and-a-half-long trip. New York surfers don’t get the respect and recognition they deserve, they say, even though they can hang with the best riders from California and Hawaii, states traditionally known to produce some of the world’s best surfers.

“It was important for us to say, ‘Listen, we might not be at the top of the industry and be featured in all the magazines, but we can still surf with the best of them,’” Patterson said. “In the lineups, we were at the top of the pecking order at almost all the breaks. It was important for us to say, ‘Look, we’re here. We don’t just surf in New York. We can surf the best waves in the world. We know what we’re doing. We’re not just only surfing in Montauk on longboards.’”

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