By Hannah Serrano
While most of us missed the beach entirely last summer, an extremely scaled-down version of the East Coast Surfing Championships barreled ahead under stringent safety precautions, making it the oldest continuously running surfing competition in the world. For 57 years prior, that title was held by the legendary Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach, Australia; which, along with virtually every other surfing contest in the world, cancelled its 2020 contest due to COVID.
“Last year, just being able to do the event, and turning all of our obstacles into opportunities” says Deepak Nachnani, owner of Coastal Edge, the event’s title sponsor, “working with Mayor Dyer, a city of ‘yes,’ working with the Jaycees and [ECSC General Manager] George Alcaraz and making it happen—that was pretty special. It brought everyone together.”
Yet last summer wasn’t the first time the contest has taken place against all odds.
“Our 49th year, that was a big one because we had a hurricane, an earthquake, a swamp fire and a tornado all within that week,” recalls Nachnani. “I’m not exaggerating. The governor at the time had a state of emergency, and we successfully had 40 vendors that left the oceanfront successfully, and we were able to finish the entire contest. It started out with this massive show, and it ended up with a few tents on the beach, and everybody on clipboards.”
While those couple years were stripped down to just the main surfing contest, the ECSC has grown over the years into a massive event with major national sponsors, including Vans and Monster. Hundreds of professional and amateur surfers from all over the world travel to the city to compete for cash prizes and trophies. Other competitions include skateboarding, bodyboarding, volleyball, a 5K run and a swimsuit competition. Between the live bands, food vendors and all the action, it remains a huge draw for spectators.
It also takes “a small army” to put on. Nachnani estimates that somewhere between 150 to 200 people—between the vendors, organizers, sponsors, performers and City staff—are involved.
“It’s one of those events that’s really an anchor for retailers,” says Wes Laine, a local surfing legend, ECSC champion and event organizer. “Surfboard builders, restaurants, bars and hotels will see an economic surge for that week. It really helps sustain the surfing industry.”
In fact, in 2018, the city of VB analyzed the economic impacts delivered by the top nine annual special events at the oceanfront, including the Shamrock and Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathons, the Neptune, Patriotic and American Music Festivals, and the Boardwalk Art Show. ECSC is the most successful by far.
“The week-long East Coast Surfing Championship generated the greatest total economic impact (direct + indirect + induced) at $25.9 million.
“ECSC was the largest contributor to job creation/retention and wages,” the report continues. “In total the event supported 281 full-time equivalent jobs and salaries of $8.1 million.
“The largest profit generating event was (also) the ECSC. Direct beneficiaries generated $1.1 million in tax revenues and the City expended $28,000 for a net profit of $1.1 million.”
A lot of the event’s growth is owed in large part to Coastal Edge’s involvement, yet what drives Nachnani, Laine and countless others year after year is not so much the prestige and glory but hometown pride and their own cherished memories.
“There is an emotional impact,” concludes Nachnani. “We’ve created hundreds of thousands of memories together. Everyone remembers their first ECSC. And to see the generations of board riders that converge here every year, to see a grandfather cheering on a father and son…it’s just incredible.
“And it’s right here in Virginia Beach, Virginia, it’s not anywhere else. We’re so blessed to be the home of this wonderful experience.”
ECSC returns to the Oceanfront for its 49th year, Aug. 22-29, 2021. Visit SurfECSC.com for more info.