11th Annual Throwdown Surf Classic
They met in preschool, and if you close your eyes it’s not hard to picture them coloring together and – just maybe, judging by their colorful personalities – throwing a crayon or two at each other from time to time.
They grew up together in Chicahauk and just down the road near Kitty Hawk Pier, and it’s easy to imagine them tearing down the traffic-free streets of the 1980s on their bikes, ready for their next caper in the waves and on the docks.
Long-time friends, surfers, and Throwdown founders, Greg Sherman, Jason Breiholz, and Stephen Lamm (l-r).
They went to high school together and eventually ended up in Wilmington during their college years, still surfing and squeezing every last ounce of fun out of life.
Then they all came home to the Outer Banks to keep doing what they do. The bond shared by Jason Breiholz, Stephen Lamm, and Greg Sherman proved too strong to see them drift apart like so many childhood friends do.
“We’ve known each other all our lives and we were just instantly friends. It was just a given, and we shared these common interests of surfing and fishing,” Breiholz says. “Obviously with families and stuff, we don’t get to hang out as much. It is more difficult to have all of us together all at the same time, but when we do, it’s for surfing, fishing, planning.”
When you’ve created one of the biggest one-day surfing contests on the East Coast, yes – there is plenty of planning to do. These three friends run the Throwdown Surf Classic, a wildly popular local event that brings thousands of people to Southern Shores in September to celebrate the sport Breiholz, Lamm and Sherman love – and give back to the community that shaped and molded them throughout their youth.
The 11th annual Throwdown is scheduled for Sept. 28 at Chicahauk Beach. The three friends and their Throwdown board members were still deciding which OBX family to raise money for this year. In its history, the Throwdown has raised more than $100,000 to support someone dealing with expensive medical challenges.
Sherman explains that when the Throwdown donated to the family of 13-year-old Isabella Rainey after their third contest, that’s when local businesses and surf fans took the event to another level, and it’s grown ever since.
“It really hit home with the community, that we’re doing this for an individual,” Sherman says. “It seems like every year, the recipient ends up being the perfect one. I don’t know how it is, but when the event’s over we’re like, ‘We couldn’t have done it for a better person.’ ”
While all three friends work doggedly to make the event a success, Sherman gets the credit for making it happen in the first place. He and Lamm – two years behind Sherman and Breiholz in school – grew up across the street from each other. One day, Sherman and Lamm’s families attended a cool family surfing contest run by the Iguana Surf Club in Sandbridge, Virginia.
It wasn’t for points like the Eastern Surfing Association events. Sherman remembered it handing out fun awards for things like “longest ride” or “coolest style” and “best tan.” He also remembered how it raised money for a good cause.
“We had a great day. We couldn’t stop talking about it,” Sherman recalls. “It stuck with me: ‘Man, I’d love to do this.’ I pushed it. I was like, ‘Why can’t we just do what they did here in Chicahauk?’ ”
And so, in 2009, the Throwdown North of Town Surf Classic was born.
Granted, it wasn’t an instant classic. That first year saw about 35 people sign up to compete. The crowd to watch the event numbered around 60 people – mostly the moms and dads of the surfers. Breiholz wasn’t even there because of a prior commitment.
Still, thanks to a donation from OBX Bank and entry fees, the Throwdown netted about $550, which the friends decided to donate to the Surfrider Foundation.
“It turned out great,” Sherman says. “It was a good day. All the kids enjoyed it. We decided to do it again and make it a little bit better.”
The second year proved similar to the first, with modest funds going to the Outer Banks Cancer Research Center. The third year was when it really escalated thanks to more hard work and a little creativity on the part of the founders – and the help of an “angel,” as Sherman called him.
Enter Noah Snyder, pro surfer and OBX legend.
“It was a big thing having Noah Snyder come into it. He brought Hurley, who brought that pro surfer presence,” Sherman says. “All the kids looked up to Noah – we looked up to Noah.”
Suddenly, the beach was full of Hurley tents and Hurley gear, and the Throwdown started to feel like a big-time event. Breiholz had to do serious work as competition director. More judges had to come in, with “a lot of old-school Chicahauk surfer guys” like Jimbo Ward, Lynn Shell, and some of Sherman’s relatives lending their support.
The number of surfers grew and grew until the Throwdown had to drop its adult divisions so it could focus on the kids. The amount of money grew as surf shops up and down the beach donated equipment to raffle off and other sponsors came on board. The number of people flooding Chicahauk also grew as the event became a can’t-miss tradition.
At the last three tournaments, more than $20,000 was raised each year, and last year more than 2,000 people were at the beach on that Saturday.
“We get there so early in the morning, we don’t see anything,” Sherman says with a laugh. “People come over to the announcer’s table, ‘You should see this!’ I tell people I would love to be able to just go home and watch it on TV because I don’t get to see it at all.”
The growth of the Throwdown Surf Classic – they condensed the name a few years in – has made it both more rewarding and more challenging.
The Town of Southern Shores, for instance, is known for being a stickler about parking, but Sherman praised town officials, the police department and fire department for their cooperation and understanding as people park anywhere and everywhere on the streets near the Chicahauk Beach access.
Thanks to Shell, Rip Curl is now the primary surf sponsor and provides extra touches – like making all the Throwdown T-shirts that people buy during the event. Businesses like TowneBank continue to lend their support, and the surf shops and board shapers like Mike Clark love being part of the fun.
“It’s the only surf contest that has all the major surf shops on the Outer Banks – they all come together for the Throwdown,” Sherman says. “Most of them give a brand new board, and we also have several shapers down here that shape a board just for the event.”
Breiholz’s job as competition director only gets harder and harder as people from Ocracoke to Delaware sign up for the Throwdown. Last year saw about 170 people compete, including 78 girls and some 70 kids in the under-10 division.
“You can run 33 to 35 heats a day,” Breiholz says. “I’ve got to be creative with making sure the heats get in and things are done. We have to start so early. If we could do this for two days, we could (expand) it.”
They’ve toyed with the idea of changing the Throwdown. Take it to Jennette’s Pier. Go back to divisions for adults by adding another day. ”I’m a three-time champ,” Breiholz modestly mentions.
But any changes like that, of course, shift the Throwdown from being “north of town” and might make it a little less like the feel-good family event founded by the three friends so long ago. Because first and foremost, they love having fun.
Sherman and Lamm spend much of the day at the announcing stand, with Breiholz on the receiving end of lots and lots of jokes.
“Since I am the only one that’s defenseless, it’s really how much they can dog me,” Breiholz says with a laugh. “They live to give me a hard time. When I don’t have a microphone, they can really let me have it.”
Is that because he’s the best surfer of the three?
“For the most part, I’d say yes to that,” Breiholz confirms. “And also, they know I can take it. I’ve got thick skin, and it’s done out of love anyway.”
Although last year, Sherman got his as well when he went out to serve as a marshall for one of the heats and lost his board in the conditions that were bigger and rougher than he thought: “I got stuck. I was feeling my age,” Sherman says. “They were razzing me on the loudspeakers – it took me forever to get in.”
There have been plenty of poignant moments during the Throwdown, as well. Four years ago, the tournament was stopped in the middle of the day for a memorial paddle out in memory of Jason’s dad and Jimbo Ward’s son.
“It was already super small, but it was like the waves just went away,” Sherman recalls. “Everybody that could get on a board – granddads paddling out with little kids on the front, anybody and everybody – paddled out and it was the biggest ring I’d ever seen. All those things kind of make it what it is.”
Now in their 40s, Breiholz, Lamm, and Sherman watch as their kids – eight of them ranging from second grade to 10th grade – spend their days surfing and fishing, and spend the Throwdown weekend at Chicahauk Beach helping set up, sell T-shirts, clean up – whatever their dads need done. It’s not hard to picture them in another 10 to 20 years cracking jokes themselves about the old guys who turned their love of surfing into a love of serving others as the Throwdown Surf Classic celebrates one successful year after another.
“I definitely have had times during this event, it’ll bring you to tears,” Sherman says. “People say it all the time, ‘You guys don’t understand what you’ve done down here.’ It is pretty neat. It’s very rewarding. When it’s over, as tired as we are, I’d do it the next weekend.”
Sherman pauses: “I don’t know if everybody would say that,” he adds with a laugh.
The Throwdown Classic is set for September 28th this year. Parking for the Throwdown Classic is located at the Chickahauk lot, with overflow located on city streets. It is the one day a year the town allows parking without a permit. ♦
Photos courtesy Throwdown Surf Classic.
Steve Hanf worked as a sportswriter for 13 years in North Carolina before finding a fun second career in the classroom. He currently advises the newspaper and yearbook programs at First Flight High School and loves his new life on the OBX.