6 p.m. update: Sam Hammer won his fourth Garden State Grudge Match title with a win over Mike Ciaramella in the final round.
Hammer, of Lavallette, followed up a perfect scoring wave in the semi-finals with another perfect score in the final, wedging himself deep into a barrel before emerging and slashing two massive off-the-top turns. That score, along with an earlier 7.5 point ride secured his victory.
Ciaramella proved a worthy adversary throughout the day. The 18-year-old from Avalon was competing in his first Grudge Match final and only his second Grudge Match appearance— he made the semi-finals last year.
Hammer's victory solidified his position as New Jersey's preeminent surfer.
5 p.m. update: It's the rookie versus the veteran in the finals of the 9th Annual Garden State Grudge Match in Seaside Heights.
Making his first appearance in a Grudge final, Avalon's Mike Ciaramella secured his finals berth by besting Long Branch's Keith Noonan in an impressive semi-final performance.
Ciaramella will have his hands full with Grudge Match veteran Sam Hammer. The winningest surfer in the history of the competition, appearing in seven of eight previous finals and winning three, Hammer earned his way to the final with an impressive display of power surfing throughout the day.
Hammer overtook his friend Mike Gleason of Long Branch in the semi-finals with an amazing tube ride that earned a perfect 10 score. Hammer disappeared deep behind a wall of water and emerged on the other side, raising his arms in celebration. Though it has not been confirmed, contest officials believe it was the first perfect score in Grudge Match history.
Ciaramella and Hammer will face off in the final with the winner claiming the Grudge Match championship belt and $3,500 in prize money.
4 p.m. update: Quarter final action at the 9th Annual Garden State Grudge Match has ended.
Conditions continued to confound some of the competitors, while others turned in some powerful performances despite harsh side-shore winds and choppy winds.
Howell's Tommy Ihnken lost a memorable quarter to Mike Ciarabella. Despite a score that would have won nearly any other heat of the day, Ihnken fell just short.
The semi-final pairings were drawn at random.
Sam Hammer will face Mike Gleason and Mike Ciarabella will square off with Keith Noonan.
The winner of these two match-ups will battle for the championship belt in the finals.
2.p.m. update: Competition at the 9th Annual Garden State Grudge Match is underway.
32 of New Jersey's most elite surfers took to the ocean off Casino Pier in Seaside Heights this morning to vie for the contest's championship belt. A limited number of spectators are in attendance, some gathered on the boardwalk, others watching from four-wheel drive vehicles driven onto the sand.
While a purse of $3,500 will go to the winner, bragging rights may be the more coveted prize as the contest continues a longstanding friendly rivalry between surfers from the Jersey's northern beaches and its southern beaches.
Conditions have been less than ideal for the contest. While the water and air are both hovering comfortably in the mid-60s, a strong south-southwest wind has put a side current and some surface chop on the waves.
The waiting period for the event is traditionally the month of October, with organizers waiting for swell forecasts to show the possibility of large surf. After a day of wet weather yesterday, large surf in the 5 to 8-foot range was a welcome sight for the competitors.
The day begin with eight qualifying heats with four surfers each. From there, the 16 winners went on face off head to head in eight two-man heats.
Even in the early heats, the contest has seen some drama. Long Branch's Mike Gleason, a former Grudge Match champion, narrowly escaped his preliminary heat, winning by a margin of .2 points in the final minutes.
Lavallette's Sam Hammer, a three-time Grudge Match champion and four-time runner up, has been dominant throughout the day, catching several waves directly in front of the pier and racking up high scores.
The quarter final match-ups are expected to begin before 3 p.m.