Ben Graeff, right, surfs a foamier with kids at Sandy Avocado Surf Camp last summer. (Photo by Ann Marie Coen)
Fifteen years ago, a soft top surfboard, or “foamie,” was considered little more than a pool toy. It was surfing’s version of training wheels (or a wheelchair, depending on the stage of your surfing career). It might as well have been an inflatable unicorn or a bellyboard from the 5 & 10, something parents used to push tykes into waves on without having to worry about the kid getting hit, or hitting someone else, with a heavy fiberglass projectile.
But that has changed dramatically. Even the surfers who enjoy cutthroat heats and paddle battling for waves are riding soft top boards, as well as those who just like goofing around in the waves. On Saturday, June 26, Red Bull will host the Foam Wreckers Soft Top Surf Classic on LBI, a surf competition exclusively on foamies, and Red Bull is calling its newest version of fun the “anti-contest surf contest.”
There are a handful of Red Bull Foam Wreckers events around the country this summer, from Virginia Beach and California to the Texas Surf Ranch wavepool, to Kauai and a standing river wave in Bend, Oregon. But the Long Beach Island stop is the first one of the year. And the noted energy drink, which has played a major role in both amateur and professional sports the last two decades, picked LBI to hold a mid-Atlantic version of its good-time surf contest.
Technically, Foam Wreckers, which takes place on the 68th Street beach in Brant Beach on June 26 starting at 9 a.m., is a competition, but with the amount of fun being promoted, it’s looking to be more of a party as the pandemic is behind most of the U.S. at this point.
The idea of Foam Wreckers is to ride soft top “foamies,” emphasizing laughs over performance surfing.
There will be 128 surfers in Foam Wreckers, from age 16 and up, both males and females competing together. Each round, surfers are assigned different boards from Catch Surf at random. They are judged not only on surf ability, but also on hijinks in the water.
Catch Surf was founded in 2007, creating a soft top surf top surfboard that was more high performance than its predecessors and promoting it with bright colors that throw back to the loud ’80s. Its signature board was the Beater; the company offers dozens of models, from a small bodysurfing “Whomper” to longboards, fish and pro models.
Two marquis foamie ambassadors are Hawaiian Pipeline specialist Jamie O’Brien and Longport, N.J.’s Ben Graeff, aka Ben Gravy. Both have elevated their surfing careers by creating their own off-beat content for YouTube and social media. Both of them have proven you can ride critical waves, get barreled and otherwise surf high performance on the right soft top board.
“I want to see all the kids, all the families and all the local heroes show up, and I want to put on the best event possible for them,” said O’Brien via a press release in late May. O’Brien has an entire collection of Catch Surf boards and apparel.
Gravy has surfed in all 50 states and has a similar pro model and apparel line with Wave Bandit, another leading soft board company. He is wildly popular on beaches in New Jersey, especially by social metrics (145,000 followers on Instagram).
“To me Red Bull Foam Wreckers captures the best parts of surfing, community and having fun,” said Gravy, “It’s an event where a weekend warrior has as much of a chance of winning as a local pro. Any one can surf, any one can win, but everyone has fun. For me, this is what surfing is all about.”
O’Brien will be at some of the stops, although not the LBI venue. But Ben Gravy will be here, along with Catch Surf’s Tyler Stanaland, Chris Monroe, Ricky Miller, Ryan Savage and Kalani Robb. Robb is part of the infamous Momentum Generation with the likes of Kelly Slater and Machado. He has appeared in a number of Hollywood films set in Hawaii and finished sixth in the world on his best year on the Association of Surfing Professionals tour.
Ben Graeff (aka Ben Gravy) has proven that foamies can work in critical waves all over the country. (Photo by Zach Greaser)
The contest looks to run all day. Then Bird & Betty’s, at 529 Dock Rd. in Beach Haven, will host the after-party from 6 to 9 p.m. The after-party is free to all and will feature music by local band Chevy Lopez.
Red Bull has also wrangled local surfer and Sandy Avocado Surf Camp founder Steff Magalanes into the fun. Known better as Steff “Mags,” she will not only be surfing in the event, but also slinging drinks at the after-party.
“It’s the perfect Saturday for surfers and beachgoers on LBI. As both a surfer and bartender, I’m super stoked for Red Bull Foam Wreckers; both the contest and after-party,” said Magalanes.
“The foam-board-only format is like a breath of fresh air fun for the local surf community and pretty exciting for participants and passerbys at the beach. After an epic day in the ocean we top it all off by catching the sunset on the deck at the Bird & Betty’s with top riders like Ben Gravy and Kalani Robb.”
The event is free to participants, and although the registration filled up quickly, event directors are asking those who did not get slots to get to the beach early as they are expecting some no-shows.
The event can be held in almost any conditions as foamies lend themselves well to small waves. In June, the water could be toasty or frigid, depending on the wind direction leading up to the event. It will be best to check the water temp in advance.
Friends, families and the general public are invited to come out. Those going to the after-party are encouraged to ride the LBI Shuttle. There will be music and giveaways all day, and a bar for those 21 and older.
— Jon Coen