Marks, Geiselman Back to Defend Titles as World Surf League Returns to East Coast Surfing Capital Jan. 14-20; Sport’s Legends to Star in “Champions & Icons Surf Contest” on Finals Day
For the second year in a row, Sebastian Inlet State Park will host the Florida Pro Surf Competition, a World Surf League qualifying series and the largest professional surf contest on America’s East Coast.
Showcasing the sport’s top professionals and brightest young stars from both Florida’s Space Coast and around the world, the weeklong Florida Pro tournament Jan. 14-20 is the first stop on the WSL’s 2019 North American Tour. The qualifying series event will feature a Women’s QS 3,000 competition and a Men’s QS 1,500 contest.
Sebastian Inlet State Park is located along the Atlantic Ocean at 9700 South Highway A1A, south of Melbourne Beach.
“Champions & Icons” Bonus Event
Florida Pro week will include a bonus, non-WSL feature, the second annual “Champions & Icons Surf Contest,” presented by Cocoa Beach Surf Company. The special event will star past league champions – such as 2001 WSL world titleholder and event ambassador C.J. Hobgood – and other former professionals competing at the surf break they grew up on. The Champions & Icons heat will take place before the final heat on finals day.
The 2018 Florida Pro last January marked the long-awaited return of the WSL qualifying series to Florida’s Space Coast. The competition drew hopefuls from around the world, but the titles went to a pair of athletes with strong Florida ties: men’s winner Evan Geiselman, 24, from New Smyrna Beach, and women’s titlist Caroline Marks, the teenage phenom who grew up riding the waves around Melbourne Beach, not far from here. Both are returning to Sebastian Inlet this month to defend their Florida Pro crowns.
Like Marks, Geiselman is no stranger to Sebastian Inlet, having surfed it regularly while growing up only about 100 miles to the north. Meanwhile, last year’s Florida Pro win was the first QS victory for Marks, the youngest surfer ever to qualify for the women’s Championship Tour. Now a California resident, she ended the 2018 season as the tour’s Rookie of the Year, at age 16, and was the overall leader in QS points.
The 2018 Florida Pro also made history with a record-breaking women’s prize purse of more than $50,000. The payouts made the competition the largest women’s surfing event ever held on the East Coast.
Spotlight on Space Coast Surfing
Bringing together some of the QS elite, the Florida Pro is another reminder that Florida’s Space Coast, with its plentiful beaches and ample waves, has long been the surfing capital of the East Coast. For decades Sebastian Inlet, with its renowned “First Peak” surf break, has been a magnet for surfers of all stripes and from parts far and wide. Known for its consistency, First Peak is generally acknowledged as the best wave in Florida and a symbol of the state’s surfing legacy.
Before last January’s competition, Sebastian Inlet had not hosted a major professional surfing event since 2009. The 2018 Florida Pro kicked off a new relationship between the Space Coast Office of Tourism and the WSL, and the 2019 edition is unfolding with expanded support from the Brevard County Tourist Development Council.
“Florida Pro reinforces the prominence of the Space Coast as a world-class surfing destination, which is a huge plus for tourism here in Brevard County,” said Bonnie King, the executive director of Florida’s Space Coast Office of Tourism. “By promoting this premier competition, we help put a spotlight on Florida’s rich heritage of world-class surfing and show how the Space Coast is at the center of it all. This is the spot for the best surf action anywhere up and down the Eastern U.S.”
Event proceeds from the Florida Pro will benefit the nonprofit Florida Surf Museum, which is dedicated to the preservation of Florida’s unique surfing culture and history. That history includes the likes of world champions such as Hobgood, Freida Zamba, Lisa Anderson and the legendary Kelly Slater, who won the world crown 11 times and is considered the greatest surfer ever.
Official sponsors of the 2019 Florida Pro include Cocoa Beach Surf Company, Red Bull, Legendary Cocoa Beach, Wanderer Bracelets, Reliable Roofing Inc., the Sebastian Inlet Taxing District, Long Doggers Grill & Brew, Fishlips Waterfront Bar and Grill, Dale Sorensen Real Estate Inc., and Luke & Associates.
With heightened interest from the local business community this year, the Florida Pro also has evolved into a community event involving the addition of “social sponsorships.” This has resulted in the availability of discounted athlete-sponsored merchandise and other themed products from local merchants – as well as gift certificates for Space Coast experiences such as area dining establishments and attractions – at the online store www.ShopFloridaPro.com.
Florida Pro Music Fest
In addition, the Florida Pro Music Fest, featuring live music, food trucks and more, is set for Jan. 19 in Shepard Park, at 299 East Cocoa Beach Causeway in Cocoa Beach. Headlined by performing acts Sir Sly, Passafire, DJ Jeff Cox, and Swimm, the festival begins at 5 p.m. and all ages are invited. Admission is $12, with children under 12 admitted free. Discounted tickets are available at Cocoa Beach Surf Company.
All surfers and the media are invited to attend the Florida Pro Opening Night celebration Jan. 14 at Sebastian Inlet Surf & Sport (SISS), at 8898 S. Highway A1A in Melbourne Beach. The kickoff party begins at 5 p.m. Festivities to include a formal press conference followed by an early evening of music, food, drinks and fun.
For more information about the 2019 Florida Pro Surf Competition and accompanying activities, visit FloridaProSurf.com or like the event on Facebook. To find out where to stay along the Space Coast, go to www.visitspacecoast.com.
ABOUT FLORIDA’S SPACE COAST
Florida’s Space Coast is a family friendly destination located 45 minutes east of Orlando. Encompassing Cocoa Beach, Melbourne and The Beaches, Port Canaveral, Titusville, Palm Bay and Viera, it is home to the world’s second-busiest cruise port and 72 miles of beaches (the longest stretch in the state), as well as 190,000 acres of wetlands and waterways full of habitat found nowhere else. Florida’s Space Coast is home to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where rockets still soar into orbit. For more information, contact the Space Coast Office of Tourism at (877) 572-3224 or visit VisitSpaceCoast.com.