Film: Ben Gravy
Inside New Jersey's 'Cold War' With Ben Gravy
"Winter takes all" is actually a great tagline.
For many many years, New Jersey surfers looked forward to one annual event -- the Garden State Grudge Match. The concept was simple: get New Jersey's best surfers together on one of the best days of the year, and have them surf head-to-head until one reigns supreme.
Some years the waves were good, other years the waves were great, but what brought everyone together was the idea of smashing your friend in a heat. In that way the Grudge Match was built around friendly animosity.
And for years it was amazing. The state's premier surfers showed up and put their hearts on the line, resulting in several unforgettable moments in New Jersey surf history. During my second Grudge Match appearance in 2011, Sam Hammer caught a wave in his semifinal that I can't seem to clear from my memory bank. Taking off 20 meters behind the fabled Casino Pier, Hammer disappeared inside a triple-section closeout tube. I distinctly remember looking away and thinking "That was gnarly," before hearing the beach explode seconds later. It was maybe the best wave ever ridden in New Jersey and I missed it because I'm an idiot and because Sam is a god.
For context, Hammer also had the highest heat total of every round that day (which paid $100 apiece), and he went on to dominate the winner-take-all final, making him the only person to win a cent that day (and he won many). He also made 7 of the last 8 Grudge Match finals at that point.
But 2013 marked the last-ever Garden State Grudge Match. Due to a perceived lack of passion from its competitors, long-time event director Rob Cloupe felt the Grudge Match had run its course. New Jersey's favorite competition was bookended with another Hammer victory (his 5th overall) and relegated forever to the online archives.
In 2016, Cloupe and Hammer, with the help of several other New Jersey natives, set out to reignite the flame that originally fueled the Grudge Match. Because the sense of personal animosity seemed to die in the early 2000s, they figured a team format could help get the competitive juices flowing. It was from this mentality that the Cold War was born.
The Cold War's premise is simple:
- Wait for a frigid day with pumping surf
- Have captains (Sam Hammer and South Jersey legend Andrew Gesler) pick teams of the best Northeast surfers, high-school dodgeball style
- Pin the surfers up against one another in head-to-head matches
- The team who collects the most single heat victories is the winner
The Cold War just finished its second installment and, despite two years of mediocre surf, the event looks about as great as any below-freezing sporting event could be. (Bite me, Packers fans.)
Team Gesler has now taken back-to-back victories against Team Hammer, which will make 2018 all the more interesting.