By Conor Mihell
Hurricane Irene undid nearly two years of hard work put in to organize the 2011 World Championships of Surf Kayaking off North Carolina's Outer Banks. The late August storm battered Hatteras Island, turning the planned host communities of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo into disaster zones scarcely a month before an international field of world-class paddlers was scheduled to descend upon the island. But now, on the eve of the event, organizer Joey Hall, local supporters and a team of surf kayak enthusiasts have worked overtime in salvaging a festival that could be even better than originally planned.
Shortly after the hurricane, the community of Nags Head, located 50 miles north of Hatteras, stepped forward and offered to host the event, which is scheduled to run from Wed., Sept. 28, to Oct. 10. Organizer Hall immediately made the switch, selecting the break at Jennette's Pier. "The storm has actually improved some of the sandbar at the break," says Hall. "It has a couple of different peaks so there are some options, and the swell has been pretty consistent there of late. I like the shape of the wave—it has lots of power but it's rideable. We love big, clean steep waves and we have the potential to have it there."
While Hall wrestled with logistics, the impacts of Irene have not hampered registration for the event, which occurs every second year and hasn't been hosted in the United States since 2001. Hall says about 100 competitors have signed up, including defending men's short-boat champion David Speller from the surf kayak-crazed Channel Islands of the United Kingdom. Other athletes to watch include Chris Hopson from Northern Ireland; Australia's Darren Bason, a former long-boat world champion; and up-and-coming Basque surfer Edu Etxeberria. Hall says North America's best hopes rest in the local knowledge of east coast veteran Anthony Bell and Dave Johnston, a pre-eminent contender from Santa Cruz, Calif.
The competition is divided into men's and women's fields with Junior, Open, Masters (40-plus), Grandmasters (50-plus) categories in short- and long-boat classes. Short-boat competitions are defined by explosive aerial moves in finned kayaks that are shaped like short surfboards. Long boats, on the other hand, follow strict design criteria—no fins—suitable for blunt-type tricks on the wave, as well as sweeping cutbacks and snappy barrel turns.
Outer Banks native Will Brooks, a veteran of four world championships, will serve as the event's head judge. Brooks got his start in judging board surfing competitions but has since been "blown away but the stuff we're doing [in surf kayaks]," says Hall. It's this type of attitude Hall wants to foster on the relatively crowd-free waves of the Outer Banks. "Most board surfers think that we're taking playboats out in the surf and doing flatspins and running people over," he says. "But when you watch this caliber of competition you can't help but be impressed."