The most special moments at the Belmar Pro generally come when the New Jersey locals shine. Thinking back, the whole beach was behind Matt Keenan and Dean Randazzo when they made the finals in 2003 and 2004. We were all right there with Manasquan’s Ryan McGrath when she beat all the females in 2007. Beach Haven native Jamie DeWitt won the Hannah Pro in 2009 and who can forget her dramatic giant wave in 2010.But in 2011, the local to shine was underdog Jess Kwiecinski of Jackson. She started surfing the Belmar Pro when she was only 15 years old. In challenging nor’easter conditions last September she navigated the storm surf to nail her turns and edge out Nikki Viessins, Darsha Pigford, and Jamie Baittinger. We caught up with Jess for a chat.
So, how’s the summer going?
My summer has been going great! I got to enjoy the beginning of my summer in California – surfing, hanging out, and doing some contests. Now that I’m home, I have just been working a whole lot and surfing whenever I finally get a day off.
How’s the surf in Jackson?
(laughing) We actually have a house in Bradley Beach. I can see the beach from my house. i usually hop on my bike and surf locally in Bradley or Belmar. Belmar is only a two-mile bike ride from me, so I go there often.
Any travel this last year?
i traveled a bunch this year. I did a couple trips to both California and Puerto Rico, and was also in Florida for a bit for the ASF Prime and NSSA East Coast champs. It’s been fun and I look forward to hopefully traveling a lot this winter too.
You seem to be competing a bit more this year. What have your recent results been?
This was a great year for me competition-wise. I’m finally figuring out how to surf heats correctly and learning what the judges score. After my win at the Belmar Pro last year, I went out to California and won a contest at the Pier in San Clemente, then I won the Prime contest in Florida, finished 1st overall ranking in the ASF Prime season for girls under-18, and won the NSSA East Coast Championships in Florida this spring. It has definitely been a very blessed year for me.
Did winning the Hannah Pro last year spark you to step up competition?
Winning the pro last year helped me with my confidence. It made me realize that it is possible for me to win, and that I shouldn’t’ always doubt my skills so much. It was exactly the type of confidence booster that I needed.
Talk us through the final day of competition last year.
The waves were so fun! That’s the biggest thing I remember. All my friends were around because that’s where I usually surf. So for me, it was such a blast. I had a goal of making the final and when I found out that I did, I was just so thankful for that. Once I got my second wave, it moved me into first place. That’s when I was kind of like, “Okay, don’t settle for fourth Jess. Go for the win.”
When I got out of the water after my heat, all my friends ran up to me and carried me up the beach. I was so embarrassed! I kept saying, “They didn’t announce it yet! I don’t think I won.” I never like to accept the win until it’s officially announced, that way I can’t be disappointed if I didn’t actually win. It was such a fun day, mostly because of the fact everyone I surf with everyday was there. So being able to win in front of them was awesome. I hope I made everyone proud.
What was it like being chaired up the beach by your friends?
So embarrassing! (laughs) I actually resisted, but they did it anyway. It was cool to see how much support everyone had for me.
What do you love about the Belmar Pro each year?
I love everyone being around surfing my local break. For me, surfing is the most fun when all your friends are around with you, so it made it that much better being with everyone. Even my friends who don’t surf were there because it’s one of the town’s biggest events. I just like being able to see everybody, hang out, and surf all weekend.
When did you first learn about the Hannah Foundation?
I first learned about it about a year ago actually, right before the Belmar pro. I Googled it to see what it was all about. It’s such a good foundation and the story speaks to me. Being a teenage girl, it’s easy to get into the wrong crowd especially with all the pressure to fit in all the time.
Being a teenage girl, I know that it can be hard to fit in. Going through high school. It seems like being popular is the only thing that’s important. I have had some really close friends who have turned to drugs and I have seen how it can ruin not only their lives, but the people around them as well. I choose to live above the influence, and I encourage the same. I have been blessed with so much, especially this past year, and it makes me realize that I really don’t need drugs or alcohol to make my life seem fun. I have found so much enjoyment through traveling, exercising, and through my relationship with Jesus. Every single person has the chance to use every last bit of his or her talents, and to live a positive life. It bothers me when girls talk about not being good at anything, or not having an exciting enough life, because in reality, you are the one who can change that. Drugs really aren’t the answer to every problem, and I really don’t think that doing them makes you look cool at all. Find something that you love, find your passion, and do whatever it takes to go after your goals in life. I promise you that you will live a much happier life.
What can we expect from you at Belmar this year?
You can expect me to have an awesome time whether I win or lose! I’m excited for another year and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for this upcoming season …hopefully some good waves! I know that there is a lot of talent coming this year and imp excited to push my surfing and take it as another awesome experience.
You can follow Jess @jesskwiecinski on Twitter or @jessicakwiecinski on Instagram.
(Thanks to Dean Bertrand for the fantastic work on this video.)