By Mimi Wood, The Island Eye News Staff Writer
“This is my favorite competition,” declares Hartley DePass, and no wonder. DePass placed first in the Dudes Grom Longboard event, part of the Joe Hiller Longboard Classic Surfing Competition, held on Saturday, Oct. 14 at Front Beach on Isle of Palms.
Looks like a foreign language, or maybe a typo, unless you’re a surfer. A “dude”, in this context, is a male surfer; a “grom” is a young surfer of any gender, and, for future reference, a “wahine” is a female surfer.
A longboard, of course, is a surfboard measuring 9 to 12 feet in length, providing more stability than its counterpart, a shortboard. And, lest you think the iconic longboard was invented by the Beach Boys, most historians credit the Hawaiians and Polynesians, as early as the 1500’s, as innovators of this exhilarating, intriguing mix of sport and sacred ritual.
Joe Hiller was an icon himself, still loved. He owned Liquid Motion, a surfer’s haven in Mt. Pleasant, until he was stricken with brain cancer, and passed, roughly 15 years ago; young, at 40. His eponymous surf competition was established just before his death; legend has him competing in it.
“We started it as a tribute to Joe, but it’s grown to remember others we’ve lost over the years…Drew Morrow and Ken Bauer, to name two.” recounts Marshall DePass, Eastern Surfing Association Board Member, and Director of its Southern South Carolina District. “He was great for the surfing community.”
“I met Joe at College of Charleston,” recalls Billy Cappelmann, local dude. “I spotted his ‘Hang Loose Hawaii’ t-shirt, and we hit it off,” he continues. “We spread his ashes off of 21st Avenue,” he states wistfully, “he was awesome.”
Saturday could not have been more glorious; a fitting tribute to Hiller and the others who are fondly remembered. “The Joe Hiller Classic culminates the whole season,” explains Marshall DePass. “It’s one of the last opportunities to surf before needing a wetsuit,” and “is a reunion, a chance to see people and relive old times.”
The gaggle of local groms, most of whom have been surfing since they could walk, agree. “I like it because I’m surfing with all my friends…we’re all riding longboards,” exclaims Olivia Dilling, who placed first in the Wahine Open event. Hartley DePass echoes, “it’s laid back, more fun than the other competitions.”
Open to any amateur surfer, this year the Joe Hiller Longboard Classic hosted surfers aged 6 to 67. It’s a family event, in many cases there are two or even three generations of one family participating. The contestants compete in 15-minute heats, where they are judged on their maneuvers, and their style in the critical section of the wave. The heat winners progress to the final, where they surf for 20 minutes.
In addition to promoting a healthy lifestyle, the Eastern Surfing Association is dedicated to “preserving free access to clean shorelines and the ocean environment,” according to their website.