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ESA considers venue change for Easterns as its 40th year approaches
Photos: All photos: AJ Neste/Surfing America
September 21, 2006
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Traditions aren't meant to be broken. And if they are, it's usually because of an outstanding circumstance.
So when word hit Outer Banks' radio station 99.1 The Sound's airwaves that the Eastern Surfing Association (ESA) was considering moving its landmark event - the Eastern Surfing Championships -- from the fabled Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, it sparked an unbelievable fervor amongst local townspeople as well as competitors.

After ESA Competition Director Brian Broom broke the news on air that an alternate venue was being considered (outside of North Carolina) because the National Parks service would not allow a scaffolding to be built or any banners displayed at the Lighthouse, the sleepy island towns of the Outer Banks woke up and made their voice heard.
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Will the 40th running of the Easterns in 2007 miss consistent hurricane surf like this?
"The parking started it all. Six weeks ago parking wasn't an issue because the lighthouse has been moved. But now they wanted to put us on restrictive parking," said ESA Executive Director Debbie Hodges. "The scaffolding/banner issue has always been there and this was just the straw that broke the camel's back - especially because we are going into our 40th year."

Being a non-profit organization, the ESA is heavily reliant on sponsor support for funding. But without proper signage at the Easterns (now in its 35th year in Buxton) sponsor pressure has been mounting and the need for a more aesthetically pleasing contest site is paramount. Perhaps even more disillusioning, ESPN cancelled television coverage of the 2006 Easterns because of the sub-par site plan.

"No matter what happens, next year there will be a premiere showcase event indicative of what we're capable of producing," said Broom. "We'll have scaffolding with full banners and tents for all the sponsors and other brands as well."

Despite local businesses benefiting from the influx of 600 competitors plus family, supporters, contest staff and media, other venue options are being explored. And when townspeople heard this, their disapproval rang loud enough to reach Washington.

In fact, the Department of Interior and ESA Officials have been in regular communication. The Feds actually support the ESA's plea and see it as a tasteful sponsorship for a special event but have chosen to stand on the sidelines after Hodges and Broom had a productive meeting with Parks officials this past Wednesday.

"I understand that it is a bureaucracy but let's just keep it real and be honest that you want us here," Hodges said after the impromptu meeting in the sand.
"I understand that it is a bureaucracy but let's just keep it real and be honest that you want us here."
-- ESA Executive Director Debbie Hodges
The two organizations are striving to negotiate a compromise to keep the event at the Lighthouse, but the ESA refuses to believe it until they see it in writing. A 30-day time frame has been established.

However, county workers sent a powerful message the following day by ripping down an ESA Easterns banner from the nearby awards ceremony location.

"The gentleman who is in charge of city signage ripped it down even though we were granted the location," said Broom. "If [they] don't want us here, it's cool. We can easily go somewhere else."

The reason the ESA Easterns have historically been in Buxton is the consistency of the waves. Surfers from all over the East Coast find the trek to Easterns as more of a pilgrimage than a travel hassle. Plus, the fact that the annual event is scheduled during the peak of hurricane season typically guarantees the surf will be pumping.

Regardless of the outcome, the rich tradition of the ESA will live on in their 40th year. As Broom ensures us, "Whether Easterns is held in the Outer Banks or in Newfoundland -- it will happen."
2006 ESA Eastern Standouts of the day