There couldn't have been a better ending to The Carissa and Maya Project, and while Carissa Moore and Maya Gabeira were certainly a huge part, it wouldn’t have been possible without a guy named Igor – Hurricane Igor.
The Carissa and Maya Project was picked for September because it’s a celebrated time on the East Coast. Not only are the summer crowds gone and the water still warm, but the project time frame aligned perfectly with the Atlantic Ocean’s hurricane season.
The storm couldn’t have come at a better time either for the Belmar Pro, a Jersey Shore tradition that brings down thousands of families each September. Igor was a major hurricane east of the Caribbean for five days, churning up the Atlantic for well over a week.
It was rather amazing, not only for the girls of the project to have the best big wave women’s surfer in their neighborhood, but to have her here with such a storm offshore. Maya got to see first hand what “hurricane frenzy” is all about.
“I can really see how these girls anticipate these storms. It’s very exciting to have these waves heading to your breaks,” said Maya.
The Hannah Women's Pro at Belmar held the semifinals on Saturday and the Engstom sisters both advanced. Alexis Engstrom surfed brilliantly, finding the set waves and making big drops on her backhand. She powered off the bottom and nailed the lip to combo most of the field. Alexis finished with a 13.33 heat total. Ariel also advanced, with a 7.17.
“I suck at surfing small waves. Normally, women’s contests are held in pretty small waves. It was awesome to have solid swell in the water,” shared Alexis.
Meanwhile, Maya was very impressed watching from the beach. But she had her hands full. The local media was enamored by Maya and created quite the buzz. After a few Billabong XXL Awards and an ESPY, the folks in New Jersey were very interested to meet her. She signed autographs for nearly two hours straight on a beautiful beach day.
Then the ladies bid farewell to Maya. She had been following a massive southwest swell heading toward the island of Fiji. This is what Maya lives for. In the Belmar house, she could be found pouring over buoy readings and forecasts. Everything panned out, and Maya was off to a spec of land in the Pacific to do her thing.
After the comp, the project took a bit more of a party feel. After all, it was Saturday night and this is Belmar. While many of the Jersey Shore towns have become a little stuffy, Belmar still knows how to have a good time. Having been together for a week now, the ladies were comfortable with each other and let loose a little bit.
Everyone was back in form by Sunday afternoon. The beach was packed with folks gaping at the massive hurricane surf, watching the pros slay giant sections. The ladies finalists paddled out mid-afternoon – Ariel, Alexis, Kim Kepich, and Jamie DeWitt Baittinger. Jamie, 27, is a native of Beach Haven, New Jersey. She was the most successful female to come out of the region in recent history. But the lack of support for women’s surfing eventually wore her out to a point where she quit competing for six years. Her story was one of the inspirations for this project.
Halfway through the heat, a massive swell loomed on the horizon. Baittinger was deepest and stroked into it. She pushed herself over the ledge and somehow drew a bottom turn on the 8-foot face. She sat in the pocket and pulled into a massive barrel. She emerged briefly before the last section shut down on her. It was an 8.83 and she won the even with a 12.23 total.
Alexis Engstom navigated some massive waves of her own to take second place with a 9.43 total. Ariel took third. It was a historic day for women’s surfing in the Northeast.
All in all, each of the girls took something unique from the project. They saw new parts of the region, created lasting friendships, surfed giant waves, and got a brush with what women’s progression in waveriding is all about.