By Todd Vorenkamp, NESS Communications & Public Relations Director


This young shredder was one of a record fifty-three competitors in the 9th Annual NESS Catch-A-Curl Youth Surf Classic.   © Todd Vorenkamp/

Despite the global COVID pandemic the New England Science and Sailing Foundation (NESS), with proper precautions and an emphasis on mask wearing and social distancing, was able to pull off a successful 9th Annual Catch-A-Curl Youth Surf competition at Westerly Town Beach in Westerly, RI on Saturday, September 19 with a record 53 young surfers competing for glory.

As the event nears a decade as a local tradition, we wanted to take this opportunity to look at the Catch-A-Curl Youth Surf Classic that brings groms to our waters from all over New England and from as far as New York and New Jersey.

In 2012, former NESS Director Mistral Dodson wanted to create an event to support the local youth surfing community—especially female surfers—and also promote ocean and shoreline conservation. Over the years, the event has grown in size and participation and this momentum has allowed NESS to continue to organize the annual competition and beach cleanup.

The event is hardly a one-man-band as an orchestra of local organizations come together to coordinate and support the Youth Surf Classic. The Town of Westerly and Westerly Recreation Department are the event’s physical hosts as the competition is held at the Westerly town section of Misquamicut Beach. The Eastern Surfing Association’s (ESA) Peter Pan runs the competition and, with Mario Frayed, organizes the ESA judges and equipment needed to run the competitive part of the event.

© Todd Vorenkamp/

Catch-A-Curl is not just a surf competition. The beach cleanup is as much a part of the core of the event as riding waves. Coordinating the cleanup is the North American Marine Environmental Association (NAMEPA), Ocean Recovery Community Alliance (ORCA), and Sailors for the Sea. In 2019 the Catch-A-Curl beach cleanup netted over 85 pounds of garbage—removed from only 3/4 of a mile of shoreline—including 536 cigarette butts, 208 food wrappers, 104 bottle caps, 23 yards of fishing line, and an assortment of other disturbing marine debris. NESS and the other organizers have the goal of leaving the beach cleaner than it was before the arrival of the Catch-A-Curl competitors and fans while educating the public on marine debris and pollution.

© Todd Vorenkamp/

While those surfing and environmental organizations form the backbone of the event, the fact is that NESS could not continue to run the classic without the support of local companies and sponsors. Longtime annual supporters include Narragansett Surf & Skate, Civil, Surfrider RI, Surfrider CT, and Avies Ski & Sport in Westerly. Powerhouse surf outfitter O’Neill came on board recently as did Raw Elements. New this year are clothing company North Swell from Mystic, CT and Westerly’s Rhode Island Surf Company.

One of the annual challenges facing NESS, the organizers, and the competitors is Mother Nature. With the date of the event chosen months in advance, the Atlantic can either look like a pond or be crashing on the Rhode Island shore with the force of a distant (or near) Atlantic hurricane. NESS’s point person for the event, Lauren Barber, says, “There have been some great years where the swell is perfect for our groms to surf and everyone is really stoked. But of course this is New England, so there are times where we have little swell as well. It is a fine line with a youth surf comp, we want swell but not too big for these are youth surfers we are talking about, some as young as five years old.” This year’s waves were of a rideable size, but challenging as they were breaking on the shore almost immediately after forming.

© Todd Vorenkamp/

Speaking of the young surfers, before the event, NESS hosts a “Try Surfing” session where rookie youth surfers can get a free surf lesson. “Try Surfing has allowed some kids who may have never surfed find a new love, while others gained the confidence to join the competition!” said Barber. “We love seeing students step outside their comfort zone and try something new. We are here to support all levels of surfing!”

For those unfamiliar with surf contest judging, Catch-A-Curl has three ESA judges that evaluate the surfers using a subjective judging system—scoring them from 0-10 (using tenths as needed). The judges look for things like degrees of difficulty, innovative and progressive maneuvers, combinations of maneuvers, variety of maneuvers, and speed, power, and flow. A surfer’s two best rides are combined to create their score, but surfers can ride up to ten waves in early heats and a dozen in finals. Double elimination heats are fifteen minutes in duration.

© Todd Vorenkamp/

With a record 53 surfers in the water this year and over 200 spectators lining the shores, the event was a smashing success and NESS is already looking forward to the 10th Annual Catch-A-Curl next September! ■

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