The 2002 Redneck Riviera Raid

The 2002 Redneck Riviera Raid
Billabong takes a tour of duty through Florida.(Click the upper right to see the slideshow)

Everyone hears the stories of all the small waves, sharks, and everything that’s Florida-it’s all true, but if you put an army of surfers and a camera together, anything can happen. Well, sort of. Anyone who’s ever been there, or better yet, grew up there, will probably tell you there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the Sunshine State-a cultural experience only felt with a honest-to-goodness tour of duty through the deep South. The 2002 Billabong Redneck Riviera Raid, held in early March, was a spontaneous mission to Central Florida with the intent of buttering the grits of everyone involved. The guide was native Floridian and Billabong Team Manager/Sergeant Chris “Heff” Heffner. Sergeant Heff, along with former WCT surfer and Florida Team Manager/Sergeant Bryan “Hewy” Hewitson, created the assignment to show the rest of the free world there’s more to Florida than manatees, mullets, and muscle cars. They and the rest of the Billabong army were stressing-pulling out any hair they had so the foray would go off without a flaw and everyone would feel like true Floridian patriots. They also took on the added responsibility of tying together an Airshow, a Billabong Junior, and a Surf Rat Series contest this year. They were busy, but had only one objective in mind-to complete their assignment.

[IMAGE 1]

Mission One: Acclimate The Troops
Florida, mainly Central and North Florida, goes through these weather patterns every now and then called “cold snaps,” where low-pressure fronts cause drastic decreases in temperature in the subtropical region, forcing orange growers to keep the crops warm and out-of-state invaders to freeze from being unprepared. The first couple of days were cold. Upon arrival in Orlando, Billabong’s Sergeant Scott Crump said we would have to spend the first night near Disney World. We also picked up Billabong Teamriders Private Gavin Sutherland and Private Hugh “Jaballs” Soderquist who told stories of their indulgence of adult-beverage rations during transport-they were pickled. After our first taste of genuine Southern dining at The Waffle House-a ghetto-ass Southern breakfast chain-we took the long drive to Indialantic, where we met up with the rest of our commandos: Billabong’s Tim Williams; Darren Brillhart and Ryan Divel who run the Airshow; and the surfers including Che “Skeeter” Stang, Justin Wiegand, Matt “Master Yater” Yates, Nate Yeomans, and Phil Watters.
Although the first few days centered around getting the scaffoldings and competitors ready for the two contests, the conditions were less than optimal. The first day of the window was decent, but stormy-so we waited for the second day. The first full night, well, that was our first field excercise in the state of Florida. Our leader, Sergeant Hewitson (a legendary commando in these parts), took us to a bar/phenomenon called County Line. It’s a phenomenon, because it’s one of the most culturally diverse scenes ever witnessed. Besides the country atmosphere and electric bull-riding mixed with “booty” music (think fast beats and big butts), the crowd wore everything from cowboy hats and gold chains to football jerseys and G-strings. Black, white, red, green, brown-everyone coexists in this place. They also have a G-string contest where most of the girls pulled their pants halfway down and shook their butts for the crowd. A few decided a tan line was good enough and delighted the crowd with the bare essentials.

Mission Two: A Shuttle Takes Off And The Airshow Nearly Gets Grounded
Hangovers? Not here. On three hours of sleep, we set the wake-up call for a shuttle launch at six in the morning. Although Cape Canaveral is nearly 30 miles away, we witnessed the launch from our hotel-something everyone should do once in their lifetime. Hearing the countdown and watching the sky iuminate in an orange streak is a thrill. Just like on video, the flames build around the shuttle and off it goes-straight into the eastern sky within minutes. All that’s left is the smoke trail and falling boosters. Heffner says if you go to Canaveral that evening, you can see the smoking boosters brought back on a barge. For the rest of the day, everyone, even competing soldiers, helped spend the afternoon putting up scaffoldings and tents-not very fun in the 100-mile-per-hour gusts. The next day was still windy as f-k, and Brillhart and Heffner wondered if their strategy was the right one as big, dark clouds loomed over. There were waves, but all the dudes, especially the Airshow guys, had trouble finding ramps and were getting blown off their boards.
In California, everyone’s really good at predicting waves and weather patterns. In Florida, it’s anyone’s guess. Oftentimes they’ll get waves in winter or spring when a front passes over and sends waves back their way. To Floridians, onshore winds are a godsend, while offshores mean the waves will be gone by the end of the day. Sebastian Inlet is a strange place. It’s a long fishing jetty that provides the bounce for the legendary peak on one side and the other side has a river outlet for boats from the Indian River. It’s not actually a river, but a long lagoon system. In reality, all the beach towns are on barrier islands, and the “river” extends along the coast for much of the state with a limited number of outlets. When the tide ebbs, the water literally flies out of Sebastian Inlet. Mixed with waves, it’s a graveyard for unaware boaters.
The second and final day of the contests went much better. The sun decided it would make itself much more of a presence, the wind backed down considerably, and the waves took on a look of desirability. In the Junior contest final, Private Stang (who’d been ripping every heat) took out a sponsorless Anthony Petruso, last year’s champ Private Dane Johnson, and Ian Rotgans-all Californian warriors. The partly cloudy skies and light winds combined with some one- to three-foot waves, but the ramps the Inlet is known for were seemingly absent in the Airshow final. Private Sutherland’s frontside ally-oop beat out Randy “Goose” Welch’s big frontside air for the win. Aaron Cormican, Private Yeomans, Private Watters, and Eric McHenry placed third through sixth respectively, headed up the final. All in all, the Billabong crew had five soldiers out of the ten finalists, including two of the winners. But after helping break everything down, that same platoon went to the hotel too disabled to celebrate.

Mission Three: Dealing With Deserters
That next morning was hectic, because most of the guys had to get back home for school or girlfriends-softies. Despite several pep talks designed to keep the men enlisted, after one call home they began crying and making their flights. Leftovers included Sergeants Crump, Hewy, and Heffner, Private Sutherland, and Private Watters. Surfing that day was out of the question, so to pass time Heff took us to Colonel Scott Bouchard’s warehouse to skate. Colonel Bouchard is another local legend, who besides holding rank at the Inlet, destroys his own mini ramp. He’s more like a general: he’s got his business (he’s the Billabong Florida rep), a wakeboarding boat, and a skatepark next door-the ultimate setup.

[IMAGE 2]

Mission Four: The Troops March South
Again, we found ourselves relying on inconsistent weather reports for the next day’s call. Sergeant Heff started calling around and figured we’d have to go to West Palm Beach, home of the famous Reef Road, for our best chance at shooting surf photos. The long drive was, well, long-one of the longest two-hour drives ever. The town of Palm Beach is like Beverly Hills East with no hills, bases, or artillery-just tons of cheesy shops and restaurants, giant yachts, and giant homes that look like palaces. It’s also the residence of South Florida soldier Private Peter Mendia-another Billabong rider and one of the army’s top wave killers. He did us the favor of rubbing in the fact we’d missed the good shit earlier in the day as we looked at the blown-out slop and surfed a place called “Flagpoles” for the hell of it-everyone pretty much said this sortie was a waste. On the long trip back, Private Watters deemed the evening would have to be a poker night-a chance for him to win back some money he lost the last time he played slimy Sergeant Heff in California.

Mission Five: The Joint Excercises
Windy, cloudy, windy, cloudy-it never seemed to stop blowing and being cold-is this really Florida? For the year preceding this trip Heff had claimed a joint exercise combining Billabong’s wakeboard and surf soldiers for a progression session where things like wave to wave transitions and 720s would go down. This was supposed to be that day. Private Watters, Private Sutherland, and Sergeant Hewy all met up with Alliance wakeboarding magazine Editor Tony Smith and Billabong wakeboarders Private Danny Harf, Private Brian Grubb, and Private Chad Sharpe on the south side of Sebastian Inlet. After some discussion, everyone invaded Spanish House, a break one mile north of the Inlet that was choppy and around head high. This would be another failure in the making. Thanks to local jet ski manufacturer Sea-Doo, there were two skis available for use. On the way out, Private Harf and Private Grubb were pulled over by an enemy posing as a fish and game officer on a routine check and subsequently given tickets for no registration and fire extinguishers. After finally making it to Spanish House, the first thing Private Harf did was ditch the ski in the shore break only to see it flop in the sand. The shoot was also a total failure-it was too choppy. Sergeant Hewy, who’d never used the mode of tow-in before, overturned the other ski twice only to flood it, rendering it useless and in need of a tow back. With one ski left, Private Watters and Private Sutherland tried to fulfill their commission and find some ramps inside of Monster Hole, a break on the other side of Sebastian Inlet-a known dwelling for the guerrillas recognized as the “enemy in the gray suit” or “big-ass sharks.” Luckily the sharks’ “preda”-tour of duty didn’t include that day. After three or four tries and failures, the last-ditch effort failed miserably. To make up for it, we went back to the Inlet and shot with local soldiers Blake and Justin Jones-at least we got something done.

Mission Six: Gathering Unintelligence To The North
Every year, the Daytona Bike Week-a gathering similar to the pilgrimage to Mecca, but much dirtier, comes to Florida. Bikers, primarily Harley and big-bike riders, come from all states, in all sizes, ages, and genders to partake in this weeklong celebration of motorcycles. Everywhere you look there’re bikers-they pretty much take over the town until the spring breakers move in for the following two weeks.
Sergeant Heff insisted we gather unintelligence reports from the scene. Heading down I-95 to Daytona, we began to notice more and more bikers, until we came to the bridge crossing the Indian River where they swarmed like ants. This year there were nine deaths on the roads-there’re no helmet laws in Florida and drinking is a big part of the celebration. Unable to find any parking, Sergeant Crump dropped us out like Navy Seals to take photos and report back.
Had we been smart, our camouflage would’ve included black T-shirts, leather, and long-flowing mullets-everyone dresses the stereotypical biker part. Some are more hardcore than others. Up and down the main drag appropriately called Main Street, bikes, bikers, and curious onlookers with video cameras lined the street like the Rose Parade as cruisers showed off anything from glitzy Harleys to their girlfriends’ chests. Somewhat scared, Sergeant Heff covered my back in case an unwilling subject of phorida soldier Private Peter Mendia-another Billabong rider and one of the army’s top wave killers. He did us the favor of rubbing in the fact we’d missed the good shit earlier in the day as we looked at the blown-out slop and surfed a place called “Flagpoles” for the hell of it-everyone pretty much said this sortie was a waste. On the long trip back, Private Watters deemed the evening would have to be a poker night-a chance for him to win back some money he lost the last time he played slimy Sergeant Heff in California.

Mission Five: The Joint Excercises
Windy, cloudy, windy, cloudy-it never seemed to stop blowing and being cold-is this really Florida? For the year preceding this trip Heff had claimed a joint exercise combining Billabong’s wakeboard and surf soldiers for a progression session where things like wave to wave transitions and 720s would go down. This was supposed to be that day. Private Watters, Private Sutherland, and Sergeant Hewy all met up with Alliance wakeboarding magazine Editor Tony Smith and Billabong wakeboarders Private Danny Harf, Private Brian Grubb, and Private Chad Sharpe on the south side of Sebastian Inlet. After some discussion, everyone invaded Spanish House, a break one mile north of the Inlet that was choppy and around head high. This would be another failure in the making. Thanks to local jet ski manufacturer Sea-Doo, there were two skis available for use. On the way out, Private Harf and Private Grubb were pulled over by an enemy posing as a fish and game officer on a routine check and subsequently given tickets for no registration and fire extinguishers. After finally making it to Spanish House, the first thing Private Harf did was ditch the ski in the shore break only to see it flop in the sand. The shoot was also a total failure-it was too choppy. Sergeant Hewy, who’d never used the mode of tow-in before, overturned the other ski twice only to flood it, rendering it useless and in need of a tow back. With one ski left, Private Watters and Private Sutherland tried to fulfill their commission and find some ramps inside of Monster Hole, a break on the other side of Sebastian Inlet-a known dwelling for the guerrillas recognized as the “enemy in the gray suit” or “big-ass sharks.” Luckily the sharks’ “preda”-tour of duty didn’t include that day. After three or four tries and failures, the last-ditch effort failed miserably. To make up for it, we went back to the Inlet and shot with local soldiers Blake and Justin Jones-at least we got something done.

Mission Six: Gathering Unintelligence To The North
Every year, the Daytona Bike Week-a gathering similar to the pilgrimage to Mecca, but much dirtier, comes to Florida. Bikers, primarily Harley and big-bike riders, come from all states, in all sizes, ages, and genders to partake in this weeklong celebration of motorcycles. Everywhere you look there’re bikers-they pretty much take over the town until the spring breakers move in for the following two weeks.
Sergeant Heff insisted we gather unintelligence reports from the scene. Heading down I-95 to Daytona, we began to notice more and more bikers, until we came to the bridge crossing the Indian River where they swarmed like ants. This year there were nine deaths on the roads-there’re no helmet laws in Florida and drinking is a big part of the celebration. Unable to find any parking, Sergeant Crump dropped us out like Navy Seals to take photos and report back.
Had we been smart, our camouflage would’ve included black T-shirts, leather, and long-flowing mullets-everyone dresses the stereotypical biker part. Some are more hardcore than others. Up and down the main drag appropriately called Main Street, bikes, bikers, and curious onlookers with video cameras lined the street like the Rose Parade as cruisers showed off anything from glitzy Harleys to their girlfriends’ chests. Somewhat scared, Sergeant Heff covered my back in case an unwilling subject of photography became upset. With no time to spare because of light (for photography and safety reasons), we gathered as much evidence as possible and retreated. Oh yeah, we couldn’t resist getting black shirts with rebel flags-when in Rome do as the Romans.
Our next move that evening was to get across a couple bridges to New Smyrna Beach, home of Aaron Cormican and the famous Johnston clan headed by Private Jeremy Johnston. Daytona is right next to New Smyrna, yet they remain two entirely different towns-one overrun with mega-tourist invasions and the other a cool-ass little surf town with one of the most consistent breaks in the state. Leaving Daytona, there’re real biker bars. Not the ones where yuppies show off their 15,000-dollar bikes, but the kind where Hells Angels eat cops for breakfast. As soon as you retreat from Scarytown, you arrive in Pleasantville and everything’s rosy. The next day was a Billabong Surf Rat Series contest, and the soldiers had to set up camp there.
The contest went smoothly with one- to three-foot waves (or head high for the kids) and two more Billabong soldiers emerging victorious-Private Caleb Johnston in the thirteen and unders, and Private Jeremy Johnston in the sixteen and unders. In New Smyrna, as well as Daytona, people are able to drive on the beach-part of making a heat means making it through traffic. So along with ATVs, lowered boom boxes, and lifted behemoths, there can be thousands of people laying out or playing around-it’s sketchy. It’s also well known for the strippers from inland towns like Orlando or Deltona sporting string (of the “G” kind) bikinis. Although a pleasant thought, the platoon was somewhat overwhelmed from putting on a third contest in a week-the troops was running out of ammunition and yearned for home. The final day was simple: gather the soldiers, get back to base camp, release some hostages, get some rations at the world’s best breakfast spot in Indialantic called The Blueberry Muffin, and return to civilian life. We’ll miss Florida, but Florida won’t miss us.
photography became upset. With no time to spare because of light (for photography and safety reasons), we gathered as much evidence as possible and retreated. Oh yeah, we couldn’t resist getting black shirts with rebel flags-when in Rome do as the Romans.
Our next move that evening was to get across a couple bridges to New Smyrna Beach, home of Aaron Cormican and the famous Johnston clan headed by Private Jeremy Johnston. Daytona is right next to New Smyrna, yet they remain two entirely different towns-one overrun with mega-tourist invasions and the other a cool-ass little surf town with one of the most consistent breaks in the state. Leaving Daytona, there’re real biker bars. Not the ones where yuppies show off their 15,000-dollar bikes, but the kind where Hells Angels eat cops for breakfast. As soon as you retreat from Scarytown, you arrive in Pleasantville and everything’s rosy. The next day was a Billabong Surf Rat Series contest, and the soldiers had to set up camp there.
The contest went smoothly with one- to three-foot waves (or head high for the kids) and two more Billabong soldiers emerging victorious-Private Caleb Johnston in the thirteen and unders, and Private Jeremy Johnston in the sixteen and unders. In New Smyrna, as well as Daytona, people are able to drive on the beach-part of making a heat means making it through traffic. So along with ATVs, lowered boom boxes, and lifted behemoths, there can be thousands of people laying out or playing around-it’s sketchy. It’s also well known for the strippers from inland towns like Orlando or Deltona sporting string (of the “G” kind) bikinis. Although a pleasant thought, the platoon was somewhat overwhelmed from putting on a third contest in a week-the troops was running out of ammunition and yearned for home. The final day was simple: gather the soldiers, get back to base camp, release some hostages, get some rations at the world’s best breakfast spot in Indialantic called The Blueberry Muffin, and return to civilian life. We’ll miss Florida, but Florida won’t miss us.