Eastern Surfing Association Strong in SoWal

September 25, 2015 by Sarah Robertson

Did you know eleven-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater started surfing and honing his skills through the Eastern Surfing Association? The ESA is the largest amateur surfing association in the country. And our own local chapter of the North Gulf Florida region is the fastest growing district and second largest in the Southeast. Just a year and a half ago this chapter had sixteen members. That number is now closing in on 160!



This is in large part to the dedication and passion of Co-Directors, Drake Martin and Ty Sims. They became involved when their kids began taking more of an interest in surfing. A local chapter was in place but it had encountered many challenges and red tape when putting on contests. Through generous support, local connections, and “inventing the wheel” they’ve made it what it is today.

Drake and Ty attribute a great deal of the chapter’s growth and success to the partnership with our state Parks and Recreation and Fish and Wildlife divisions. By using state parks to hold the contests, the ESA doesn’t have to interfere with public beach access and can get permits issued quickly should water conditions allow for good surf.

Drake explained that a tricky part of planning surf contests in our area is we don’t always get the kinds of waves the other coasts experience. But when we do, wow! Our beaches are arguably the most beautiful and when a weather system allows for gorgeous surf, you can bet we will be out there and trying to run a contest.



Above all else the ESA’s goal is to get kids involved and exposed to surfing. You don’t need to know how to surf to join and participate in a contest. You don’t even have to own a surf board – they have plenty on hand to borrow. Surfing seems to hold a certain mystique or elitist quality and one of their primary goals is to dispel those views.

What are the benefits of being a member? Most importantly the membership fees cover insurance for participation in contests, events, and clinics. They offer at least one activity a month and if the conditions allow, will host “pop up” contests. Membership allows you to accrue points toward qualification in larger championship tournaments. (In fact this month we have several local surfers representin’ at “Easterns” in Nags Head, NC!) It also gets you an annual subscription to Surfer magazine and discounts at local surf shops.

It’s clear we’ve got a great thing going here. But this local organization is in need of volunteers. One doesn’t need to be a surfer to become involved. Talents come in many forms and Drake and Ty are looking to grow the chapter to include a strong, consistent volunteer base. Tasks range from event set-up to helping with sign-in to becoming a trained contest judge. Most of the initial leg work is done. The program is becoming turn-key with lots of opportunities for involvement with varying levels of commitment. The most important prerequisite is a willingness to just show up!

Drake and Ty are also looking for annual sponsors. These businesses will benefit with exposure at regular events spanning our entire district: from Gulf Streams, Alabama to Pensacola. They are grateful for the generous swell of community support over the past eighteen months and insist they couldn’t have grown the program to where it is without them.

The North Gulf Florida chapter of the ESA is devoted to teaching kids surfing and providing a positive learning environment. They are always hoping to meet new surfers of all ages and abilities, and again, prior surfing experience is not necessary! Check out their website at and get your kids involved today. According to Drake and Ty: all they gotta do is get in the water!

- photos courtesy ESA NGFL Chapter


Sarah Robertson's picture

Sarah Robertson

After years of May and October visits to South Walton, Sarah Murphy Robertson and her husband and young son made the leap to become locals in March 2011. Along with long lazy days spent beachside, Sarah also loves watching documentaries, voracious reading, spinning a witty pun, and homemade bread just out of the oven.

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