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Published August 27, 2011, 01:26 PM

Despite Irene, world's top surfers hit New York

LONG BEACH, N.Y. (AP) — The world's greatest professional surfers are coming to Long Beach. No, not California.

By: Frank Eltman, Associated Press

LONG BEACH, N.Y. (AP) — The world's greatest professional surfers are coming to Long Beach. No, not California.

The Long Island city, 50 minutes by train from Manhattan, is getting ready to play host to the Quiksilver Pro New York Surf Competition, starting Sept. 1 and running for two weeks.

Not even a hurricane, it seems, will stop the first such competition to be held in New York, where organizers are offering a record $1 million purse to competitors, including 10-time champion Kelly Slater.

And how about the timing? As the city prepares for Hurricane Irene, some of the pros even arrived early and practiced in the epic swell on Saturday.

But when the waves really count next week, the surfers will have to compete in that tough New York market, when sports fans will be focused on the Yankees' run for the playoffs, the Jets and Giants opening their seasons and the U.S. Open tennis tournament being held at nearby Flushing Meadows.

So will fans come down to the seashore to watch an event usually associated with California, Hawaii or Australia? Probably, said Steve Rosner, a co-founder of 16W, a New Jersey-based sports marketing firm.

"From a business standpoint, the advertising and media dollars are here in New York," Rosner said. "They have a better chance of leveraging interest in their sport here in New York. I think it might get an initial bump because it's something different, something new."

Organizers concede they don't know what to expect, but they are planning for thousands, suggesting many take the Long Island Rail Road, or drive to nearby Jones Beach and take shuttle buses to the competition site. Besides the surfing, organizers are planning a companion festival featuring "indy" bands like the Flaming Lips, as well as BMX bike and skate demonstrations, including an appearance by retired skateboarding ace Tony Hawk.

"It's going to be great for Long Beach," said Sonny McCutcheon, a former surfer who was strolling the boardwalk one recent summer morning. "It's going to bring a lot of outside people in. I think it's going to open a lot of eyes for people to see what a beautiful town Long Beach is, beautifully run beaches. I see nothing but positives."

Of course, it remains to be seen what Irene may do to all of these plans.

Lisa Mulligan, Long Beach's deputy city manager, estimates the tournament could generate $10 to $15 million for the local economy, counting visits to restaurants, hotel stays, sales tax and other revenue. Tournament organizers also are reimbursing the city for approximately $250,000 in costs for staging the event, another city official said.

"I'm excited for it," said Cindy Schott, the mother of four, including a son taking surfing lessons this summer. "I'm worried about how the town is going to handle it with so many people coming. Just like the logistics of it, but everything else I'm really excited for it. I love seeing the surfers come here. I love it. I think it's great.

"I hope they have the waves for it."

Ah, the waves.

Although known locally, along with Montauk on eastern Long Island, as a prime surfing location, many wonder whether the waves off Long Beach will be fierce enough to challenge the world's best.

Jodi Wilmott, a spokeswoman for the organizers, said the dates were chosen in consultation with meteorological experts from Surfline.com, which examined 15 years of data on local wave condition. The study found that swells — waves of 3 feet or better — were most likely in early September off of Long Island because it comes in the middle of the Atlantic hurricane season.

"It's all about where the waves are," noted McCutcheon, the former surfer. "If the waves are in Puerto Rico, you go to Puerto Rico. If the waves are in Hawaii, you go to Hawaii. So if the waves are in Long Beach, they'll come here."

One competitor will enjoy a home-surf advantage. Balaram Stack, a 19-year-old Long Beach native who has competed from the north shore of Oahu to Tahiti, Australia and back, has been given one of two wild-card entries in the competition. The second will be chosen in preliminary heats that begin Sept. 1.

Surfers are judged on degree of difficulty, innovative and progressive maneuvers, combination and variety of maneuvers, speed, power and flow, using a scale of 1-10. The exact schedule for the competition will be determined by weather conditions. The winner receives a top prize of $300,000; second prize is $100,000 and 25th place finishers are guaranteed $11,000.

The Quiksilver Pro New York is the sixth of 11 stops on the 2011 Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour. Other upcoming events will be held on the southwest coast of France, Peniche, Portugal, San Francisco, and ending in Hawaii in December.

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