Backed by tourism tax funding, World Surf League event at Sebastian Inlet reinforces area’s prominence as East Coast surfing capital
The Florida Pro Surf Competition, which last January marked the long-awaited return of the World Surf League qualifying series to the Space Coast, is coming back to the area in 2019, this time with expanded support from the Brevard County Tourist Development Council.
Taking place once again at Sebastian Inlet State Park, the 2019 Florida Pro is set for Jan. 10-19. With event proceeds benefitting the Florida Surf Museum, the competition is another reminder that this area has long been the surfing capital of the East Coast. Sebastian Inlet, with its legendary “First Peak” surf break, has been a magnet for surfers of all stripes for decades. First Peak is generally acknowledged as the best wave in Florida and a symbol of the state’s surfing legacy.
The Florida Pro Surf Competition presented by Sunshine State Florida Lager made history when the WSL’s qualifying series returned here last January. Its women’s prize purse of more than $50,000 – greater than the men’s purse – was the most ever for women surfers in the United States, ensuring the competition would turn out to be the largest women’s surfing event ever held on the East Coast.
The 2018 Florida Pro drew surfers from around the world, but the titles went to a pair of athletes with strong Florida ties. Teenage phenom Caroline Marks, who grew up riding the waves around Melbourne Beach and just turned 16 in February, marked her homecoming by capturing the women’s crown, while Evan Geiselman, 24, from New Smyrna Beach, was the men’s winner.
Before last January’s Florida Pro competition, Sebastian Inlet had not hosted a major men’s and women’s professional surfing event since 2009. The 2018 Florida Pro kicked off a new relationship between the Space Coast Office of Tourism and the WSL. The SCOT views this premier surfing competition at the inlet as another opportunity to enhance Space Coast tourism. The goal is to preserve and showcase Florida’s rich heritage of world-class surfing, with the Space Coast as its focal point.
To support the 2019 edition of the Florida Pro, the county’s Tourist Development Council has earmarked $160,000 in Tourist Development Tax revenue, with $80,000 dedicated to marketing the surfing event and the remaining $80,000 to be used for prize money and other forms of support.