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Regular Joe Surf Festival

Meredith Robson

If there's a more original surfing competition than "Regular Joe," it's hard to imagine what it might be. Touted as a "Surf Contest for the Rest of Us," it's a two day bash for dedicated recreational surfers that delivers all the cachet of a pro surf contest, but without the added pressure of taking on pro surfers. Staged at Sebastian Inlet's famed First Peak, Regular Joe is held smack in the middle of Florida's hurricane season.

The 4th Annual Regular Joe Surf Festival takes place Sept. 17-18  (with back-up dates of Sept. 24-25). Joes and Josies competitors will surf four full heats over that weekend at the Inlet.  There is a mixed bag of divisions such as Suits & Scrubs (legal and medical); Surf & Protect (active military, police, fire, first responders and lifeguards), Keepers of the Coast (members of Surfrider Foundation), and Forever Hippie (you know who you are).  

Regular Joe is put together by Sebastian Inlet Surf & Sport and the Sebastian Inlet chapter of Surfrider Foundation, a community of everyday people nationwide who passionately protect and preserve our invaluable coastlines and beaches.  There will be a supervised beach clean-up on Saturday to take care of everything that has piled up due to the recent storm activity.

"Come with a great attitude, but if you take the contest too seriously-- the judging, the scoring, you're gonna have to go. We're all about fun," says John Robson with a laugh. Robson and Gay Nemeti are proprietors of Sebastian Inlet Surf & Sport shop and the event directors. 

Founder's Heat to set things motion and then the regular Regular Joe heats will start. There are four divisions for Regular Joes: 49 and under shortboard and  longboard; 50-plus shortboard and longboard; as well as separate shortboard and longboard categories for Regular Joesies. This year for the first time Regular Joe is accepting Stand Up Paddleboard surfers, though SUPs won't be allowed the ocean at the same time as traditional surfboards.

Lots of parties, too. Festivities kick off with a registration party at Coasters Biergarten on Friday evening. On Saturday there is a raging Stomp Party to be held at Sebastian Inlet Surf & Sport Shop featuring the bands Cherry Down and the Shrednecks. Finally, on Sunday afternoon after the "King of the Joes" superheat there is more music and an awards ceremony as the champion hoists the prestigious trophy on the upper deck of the Inlet Grill.

Robson has been surfing Brevard County's southern beaches for nearly 40 years and traveled up to the inlet several times a year while working for a Miami music television channel and later with a marketing firm. Robson and Nemeti relocated to Melbourne Beach and opened up their eclectic surf shop in May 2012. Located two miles north of the Sebastian Inlet Bridge, the shop features a shaded porch for hanging out post-surfing and a dedicated Board Room for short boards, long boards, body boards, skim boards and SUPs. On the main floor there is an array of Florida clothing brands like WeedLine fishing apparel  and accessories like Lotus and Luna bracelets. Check out the book and record areas as well as the foosball table and pinball machine.

"We have a whimsical approach to staging Regular Joe, so it's a fun weekend," Robson says. "We're proud to showcase the surfing culture that permeates the entire area, it's the number one sport. Our primary goal is to build awareness for the Surfrider Foundation that takes care of the ocean and our beaches. Their members are fully integrated in the running of the Regular Joe. The event is a fun way to bring what they do to everyone's attention."

Robson says the event has secured its largest number of sponsors in 2016, including presenting sponsor Sweetwater Brewing of Atlanta, Georgia. The craft brewing company selected the Surfrider Foundation as one of five recipients nationwide to receive a significant donation from  Sweetwater's "Save Our Waters" campaign.

Proceeds from Regular Joe benefit the Sebastian Inlet chapter's campaigns. One is the battle against seismic surveys in the Atlantic Ocean which the local chapter spearheaded. Currently, the Department of Interior is deciding whether to conduct seismic surveys in waters from New Jersey to Florida to assess oil and gas resources as to whether offshore drilling should occur. The proposed testing would employ loud and continuous sound blasts from seismic airguns which many scientists feel would produce devastating impacts on marine mammals, sea turtles, fishes, and other marine life, including the endangered Right Whale.

"Regular Joe has been a terrific event for us," says Indialantic resident Mike Daniel, chairman of the Sebastian Inlet chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. "It's great way for us to involve more people in all the good things we do locally like protecting surf breaks, and keeping our beaches and oceans clean, safe and accessible to everyone."