St. Rose’s new surfing team ready to hit the waves
By Rich Fisher | CorrespondentCompetitive high school surfing in New Jersey is growing more popular each year, and St. Rose in Belmar is one of the latest schools to ride the Monmouth County wave.
The Purple Roses have established their inaugural team under 24-year-old coach Adam Iatesta who, since he was 8, has surfed up and down the New Jersey coastline along with trips to California, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico.
As school begins, Iatesta has 12 participants on the competitive team, which will go up against other nearby schools, and more than 10 more club swimmers who come out for the practices. St. Rose’s “home beach” will be at Spring Lake, which it shares with four-time defending state champion Manasquan.
Being a lifeguard captain at Avon By The Sea – his hometown – Iatesta was able to schedule a number of summer practices there with the help of assistant coach Vanessa Feibel and his lifeguard staff.
“The kids are having a great time,” said Iatesta, a 2016 Monmouth University graduate. “I’ve been doing it for a very long time. I’m happy to help the kids be able to do it in a competitive sense. I was never a competitive surfer but I love the fact the kids are willing, and feel they are at that talent level to be a part of it. I‘m happy to make that happen for them.”
Iatesta said St. Rose High School had a surf club for several years before Superstorm Sandy hit, putting everything on hold while the school was repaired. Last year, athletic director Dan White put out feelers to see if there would be interest in a competitive team and got valuable input from those involved with the successful Manasquan program.
As luck would have it, Iatesta was hired as a math teacher and discussed becoming a swimming coach with White. It came up in conversation that Iatesta was a surfer, and he was quickly hired to oversee the fledgling program.
“Dan had most of framework set up,” Iatesta said. “A couple of the students were really talented surfers but didn’t have an outlet. They wanted to compete. For me, it was a matter of being in the right place at right time.”
An interest meeting was held last spring for sign-ups, and several incoming freshmen caught wind of the new team over the summer.
The current roster for the competitive squad – which could expand depending on who the coach can recruit now that school is back in session – features senior twin brothers Matt and Christian Amato; senior Frankie Bellezza; juniors Nolan Boehmcke, Matt Pelech, Declan Coyle and P.J. Dwyer; sophomores Olivia Allen and Joseph Bryceland, and freshmen Sean Annitto, Patrick Keenan and John Harold.
The tryouts began with a safety test, in order to make sure each surfer could swim well in the open ocean. The second step was to see if the candidate could paddle around and into a wave and be able to stand up.
“It’s not a learn-to-ride program; you have to come in knowing how to surf,” Iatesta said. “But I’m not excluding anyone based on ability. As long as they can stand up, if they’re just going straight that’s fine by me; they can be on the competition team.”
As for the number of competitors in each contest, Iatesta said, “I have to look into that, but of the high school events I’ve seen, you have nine surfers on the competition team – six short boards, two long boards and one female.”
Not all are in the water at the same time, of course. When it comes to scoring, each surfer gets a certain period of time to catch as many waves as they desire. The top three scoring rides from each surfer are counted, and judging is based on three main criteria – how challenging the wave, how long a rider stays on the board, and how creative the maneuvers.
“Somebody who’s cutting, doing their bottom turns, a couple cutbacks or floaters, they would score better than someone who would just go in a straight line,” Iatesta said. “I don’t know if any of my kids are capable doing any air [tricks] because we haven’t had the best waves for our last couple practices, but I’m excited to see what they can do.
“Since our waves have not been ideal to improve the maneuvers, it’s been more just paddling around into the waves, just keeping the muscles active, your balance muscles, your paddle muscles. The more time you put in the water, the better you’re gonna get. It’s about giving the kids a structured environment where they can get in the water and improve their ability. Once we have better waves, I’ll be coaching them, giving them pointers,” he continued.
While the schedule has not been finalized, Iatesta noted the Purple Roses’ first meet will be late September against Rumson-Fairhaven. St. Rose will compete in the Northeast Region of the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) along with established Monmouth County programs such as Manasquan, Wall, Ocean Township, Donovan Catholic and Shore. CBA and Neptune are also starting teams this fall.
“I’m just interested in getting as many kids out in the water and surfing against these other teams, and more importantly letting the community know we’re a team, that we exist,” Iatesta said. “If we win, if we get to states or anything like that, that’s an amazing accomplishment. Right now I’m just concerned with the safety of everybody and having everybody have a good time.”
He is also interested in keeping it all in perspective.
“We do have a prayer we’re going to have for our contests,” the coach said. “That’s like a big thing for our teams. Every team, when gathering for a contest, has a short little prayer we say to kind of center everybody and remind ourselves of the bigger picture and what the whole thing’s all about.”