Garden State Grudge Match Returns After Near Decade Layoff- Jersey Boy’s Go Mental !

Photos by Bruce Chrisner and Donald Cresitello, captions by Bruce Chrisner, story by Rob Cloupe 

After a 9 year hiatus and marking the 20 anniversary of the inaugural event, The beloved Smith Garden State Grudge Match has finally returned to the waters of the Jersey Shore! The last event was in 2013 the year after Sandy destroyed Casino Pier where the event was held and it is a much better, if not still scarred, with the old wood pier gone it just didn’t feel the same in some ways.

Mr. Rob Kelly, the new reigning Champ of the GSGM circa 2022! Rob has been setting this part of the world on fire with his surfing for a bunch of years now. The Billabong East Coast Team Captain is a deep barrel rider and his super rad, technical airs fill his bag of tricks to over flowing, especially for surfing heats in a heavily contested event like this! But it was his spicy floaters and off the lips won him the Day without question showing he is the most versatile ripper in Jersey at the moment as well. Photo: Bruce Chrisner @bucechrisner1

But time heals all wounds and 2022 was the time to shake it off and bring it back this one of a kind, interstate event. The Grudge was the contest of all contests for the elite surfers of NJ back in the early 2000s with its unique format and 1 month waiting period.  Contest creator Rob Cloupe used a hybrid of the initial formula by choosing the surfers based off three categories (year 2-10 a trials event was run to replace 8 surfers eliminated in the 1st round). Those categories were 8 returning champs/finalist, 8 free surf stand outs, and 8 young guns.

Sam’s backside game is every bit as strong as his frontside game, not to mention aside from being at the Top of the talent pool, his contest surfing mind is spot on, analyzing surf conditions, analyzing who he’s surfing against and figuring out his heat before he ever touches the Water. That’s what you have to look forward to if you’re competing against Sam. Photo: Donald “Crusty” Cresitello @crusty79

With a 3-5 glassy swell on tap courtesy of the remnants of Ian the 24 invitees hit the beach of Seaside Heights to do battle in the winner take all format. Each round the surfers pick their opponents license out of a hat at random to determine the match ups…winners licenses go back in, losers go home and have to do the walk of shame to get their license.

Early Autumnal dawn patrols with surf is the bomb. You get up while it’s still dark out, fumble around bleary eyed with the coffee machine trying to get your act together to go surf and be on the beach all day. Comp director Cloupe was there before anyone orchestrating the day. Jamie from Solite Boots and I ( who was working double duty both repping at the booth and behind the lens for eastern / ESM ) arrived just in time for the pastel painted sunrise and a killer set to let us know that Hurricane Ian left us some Goodies to hold a bangin’ surf contest ! Photo: Bruce Chrisner @brucechrisner1

The first 2 rounds saw unbelievelbe high level surfing with Pat Schmidt scoring the highest heat total of the day with an 18 and Sam Hammer showing why he has 5 belts on his mantle. Other stand outs were Tucker Collins, 13 yr old phenom Cruz Dinofa, 2003 Champ Matt Keenan, Jamie Moran, Paul Francisco who landed an insane air 360 to win his round 1 heat.

I’ve sponsored and kept my eye on Cruz since he was 6 yrs old, surfing swaddled in a life vest with his pops Tim pushing him into Waves. By the time Robert Weiner of Roberts Surfboards and I saw him at North St. in Ocean City, NJ his home town. He was doing grown up man turns at 6 yrs old, after his dad pushed him in. Now I don’t think there’s a trick in the Book of Surfing that he doesn’t have wired or is working on to add to his game plan for surfing and competing. Photo: Bruce Chrisner @brucechrisner1

As the comp progressed we saw a story line playing out of the old guard vs the young guns as the quarters and semis were split 50/50. The quarter final to note was the Spartan Perry Siganos who had Hammer on the ropes with 30 seconds left only to have Hammer pull it out on his last wave to the surprise of almost no one. Perry showed his Grudge grit and filled the shoes of his nickname.

Cole Deveney’s one/two punch part 1: Cole has been surfing well beyond his years for about 4 yrs now and has grown into a nearly filled out, 6 foot + beast from his gangly little grom days that seem so not that long ago. I’ve watched him progress since he was a tyke developing into a powerful, precise fast maturing surfer who knows exactly what he’s doing. And he’s the whole package – great kid, caring soul who will actually be the first guy to stand up and say “I’ll help”! So obviously great great upbringing by his fam. Sequence: Bruce Chrisner @brucechrisner1

Part 2: And, as a quick side note, Coles dad, TR Deveney was a torch carrier at Manasquan Inlet in his youth, one of the first kids to bring skate moves to the water out at the main peak in Manasquan and one of the rippers bringing legit airs to town. It’s safe to say Cole is following his dads footsteps with huge moves like this. Sequence: Bruce Chrisner @brucechrisner1

In semi 1 Rob Kelly took down a red hot Kyle Tester who was a giant killer all day but Rob’s front hand attack in the lefts was the deciding factor. In semi #2 Hammer barely took down another surfer who was on fire all day in Cole Deveney. Cole used a blistering air game and power rail surfing to stake his claim as one of the best young talents in NJ.



A friend of mine on the Beach told me to keep my eye on Tucker Collins and he sure was right. This kid was going for it on the close out sections and kinda came out of the shadows blowing everyone’s minds. He was easily keeping up with all the best pro’s in the water and that alone impressed me. But then I saw this one particular fangs, out air revo and he landed it like it was a walk in the park well, just….wow! Tucker made it to the quarters and, in a very evenly matched heat against Grom Phenom Cole Deveney, he just couldn’t advance out of that one but he certainly did in my mind in so far as my respect and appreciation for his surfing talents. Photo: Donald “Crusty” Cresitello @crusty79

The Kelly vs Hammer final suffered a little power outage from a high tide and dying swell but from the 1st wave ridden by Rob Kelly the result was inevitable as he used a strong frontside rail game to take down the defending champ Hammer. Rob has been a stand out in the NJ surf scene since he was a grom and is definitely one of the competitors over the entire Grudge 2 decades that deserved a belt of his own. NOW HE HAS ONE!

Rob Kelly the ultimate winner of the day, with his check, belt and winning smile. The money and Traeger grill is nice and all but Scratching to the top of the 2022 Grudge Match mountain top above all those other guys is a serious statement in and of itself. Plus you got bragging rights til next years comp, almost as good as the prizes themselves. Photo: Bruce Chrisner @brucechgrisner1

Hammer proved he is still the GOAT by surfing in his 8th final out of 11 Grudges…he will be back with a vengeance next year to try and reclaim his throne. Thank you to the sponsors Smith, Dakine, Jetty, Solite Boots and Gloves, Pocono Organics, Traeger Grills, Drifters and Playa Bowls. – Rob Cloupe –

Sam Hammer is a legendary NJ and East Coast pro that has turned heads with his surfing for a couple of decades now. The Lavalette native has won the Grudge more than anyone and still ripping at a nearly unbeatable level. He has constantly been setting a precedent for the young up and comers to attempt to follow. As his competitive years wind down he is giving back in earnest through his Hammer Surf School teaching by example but still schooling the groms at events like the GSGM. Sam’s trademark front side hack on full display during Round 1, heat 8. Photo: Bruce Chrisner @brucechrisner1

No Grudges, just hugs from Sam hammer to his most worthy challenger, 2022’s GSGM winner, Rob Kelly. Photo Donald “Crusty” Cresitello @crusty79

Seaside Hts. NJ came through for another Great Contest for the NJ pros to do what they do best compete in a surfing contest set-up for Bragging Rights in our State. Seaside allows everyone involved with the Contest to drive down on the Beach to the Northside of Seaside Pier. Photo: Donald “Crusty” Cresitello @crusty79

How hard did Jamie Moran turn on this one? Check the full GIF Sick-quence! by Donald Cresitello below to see. And wear some goggles. Photo and GIF by Crusty

Jamie Moran Sickquence ! By from on Vimeo.

Ion Bloch is The Silent Killer. He packs so much power in his surfing, you can’t take your eyes off of him for a minute while he’s in the water, if you do as a surf photographer you will miss something for sure. Ion’s middle name is “Power Surfing” and it was on full display during this round 2 heat 2 confrontation. Photo: Bruce Chrisner @brucechrisner1

East Coast legend and picture maker / caption writer, Bruce “Hari” Chrisner out of the Solite booth and behind the photo gear. Few have put more time into This Thing Of Ours from such a diverse standpoint as Bruce and we thank him very much for his time in helping pull this feature together for his homies to present to all of you to enjoy. Photo: Donald “Crusty” Cresitello @crusty79

I remember Matt “Keenzo” Keenan coming to the Inlet for a photo shoot when he was a grom and I was a little fearful in looking at his size and age and the size of the surf. He came with a little crew from his home base of Ocean City, NJ and proceeded to blow my mind with the way he was surfing beyond his years and his then meager physique. Fast Forward 25 years and you have a surfer that also followed the sales direction within our industry in tandem with his pro surfing career. Matt has been working in the biz now for years, and has been successful at it. He is also raising a family and a staying a strong, active force in the surf community. One thing he has totally maintained since his top dog NSSA days is he is still every bit the fierce competitor and the power exhibited in this turn is, for very obvious reasons, feared by anybody he draws in a heat. Photo: Donald “Crusty” Cresitello @crusty79

Rob Cloupe, brainchild of the Garden State Grudge Match and a more than capable Master of Ceremonies for the day. Behind the scenes for months on end, Cloupey stayed on top of it near daily setting up the event, securing all the sponsors, talking to the competitors and support staff prior to the sound of the first hooter as well as manning the mic until the last award was handed out. No small feat and, once again, a great job by all involved top to bottom who helped make it happen. Photo: Bruce Chrisner @bucechrisner1

Paul Fransico ripped the whole Contest all the way to the quarter finals. He impressed a lot of people on the beach with his blow tail maneuvers but finally went down to the Legend, Sam Hammer. You have your work cut out for you surfing against Sam who has won this Contest a few times. Paul has many years of coming back and surfing against these guys in the future. I’ve seen him being invited back for sure. Photo: Donald “Crusty” Cresitello @crusty79

Cruz Dinofa, a protege of winner Rob Kelly, is a surfing wundergrom plain and simple, a one of one perhaps on the entire East Coast. Growing like a weed now, he’s already a force to be reckoned with. Being invited to the most prestigious surfing contest in NJ at 13, and then making it to the 2nd round against the Best of the Best in our State? Well, look out everyone, here Comes Cruz, a future Grudge Champ in the making for sure! Photo Bruce Chrisner @brucechrisner1

Randy Townsend, surfings consumate local Contest Director himself for the NSSA. Randy still has what it takes to hold his own in surfing events where he originally made his name and reputation. Don’t let that white beard he’s rocking these days fool you, if you get Randy in your heat ya’ better be totally on your game! He’s also one of the best surf coaches out there that you could ever hope would give you some advice on deciphering your surfing and decoding what you need to work on plus he’s just a really good human being. Photo: Bruce Chrisner @bucechrisner

The Heat Board lays it all out for everyone, no questions at the Tent needed, it’s all right there all day in black and white. I love this, everything is on the table in simple fashion for all the competitors and spectators to see with no complicated bullshit – it’s a Jersey thing, yo. Photo: Bruce Chrisner @brucechrisner1

Tommy Ihken’s really come into his own and has been blowin’ up Dirty Jerz from Sandy Hook to Poverty Beach down in Cape May for nearly decade. He will kick everyones butt if he catches the right waves. His moves are New School with just the right amount of power in each turn to turn heads on the beach and in the water. He is the Master Of Making the Crazy Shit he tries to pull off, leaving everyone slack jawed on the beach. One of my fave surfers to shoot for sure. Photo: Bruce Chrisner @brucechrisner1

( L-R ) Jamie Moran, Sam Hammer, and Tommy Inkhen Grudge Match 2022 20 year anniversary. As I said, these guys are all friends with mutual respect for each other and they surf together regularly. Some of the best ever from the Garden State having a chuckle together before their heat but they will try and rip each others heads off when there is a stack of chips on the table – as it should be – before going back to the beach and to share some cold beverages. Photo: Bruce Chrisner @bucechrisner1

Pat Schmidt came down from Montauk, NY with wife Quincy Davis, a full on ripper herself by anyones measure, and was hucking airs like this throughout the day, in less than ideal conditions for above the lip antics. The waves breaking on the Outside Sandbar at Northside were seriously detonating making it very hard to complete the landing with the ocean unloading like you were surfing over an exploding, under water mine which you kinda were really. This made for some amazing moves with these guys taking some serious risks which paid off sometimes but also resulted in them getting blown to smithereens trying to land them. Photo: Bruce Chrisner @bucechrisner1