They scoop up their gear, toss it into the back of the truck, and jog over the boardwalk, down a ramp, and across the beach. A slight onshore breeze has added a little oomph to the waves, but it’s still a far cry from decent.
Stack stops at the shoreline, swings his torso back and forth, and grinds his feet in the sand to wipe away any grease he may have picked up. At his level of surfing, traction is everything. The more board can become appendage, the better.
He paddles out and catches a wave almost immediately. He flings himself across the waist-high face, as if trying to break free of the water. He sets his sights on a little bend in the lip ten yards down the line, and when he gets to it he boosts up and over, airborne for an epically long moment, then lands atop the wave and continues riding. Finally, he kicks out in a single motion, paddles a few yards, and heads straight into another one.
After he catches six or seven waves in the space of ten minutes, his strengths become obvious. He’s a fishboy. He never fails to be in the right place at the right time. He’s zippy and nimble, his rear foot poised to torque his fins out and skid across the wave whenever the opportunity arises—a signature move, more like a skater’s grind than a surfer’s carve. Like most of the greats who hail from surf-deprived locales, he has the ability to make terrible waves look amazing. And that, ironically, has been his key strength in competitions so far. The dates of surf contests are set months in advance, organizers choose prime locations and pray for swell, but just as often a contest will end up being held in feeble, Long Beach–like waves. In the semipro tour especially, the waves are often pretty meager—exactly the kind of conditions that Stack can exploit better than just about anyone.
On Friday of this week, Stack competes in the Red Bull Night Riders in Atlantic City, where the cream of the East Coast pro circuit will be in attendance. Stack will be one of the youngest, but he’s completely capable of winning it all. It’s a “tow-at” event in which competitors use Jet Ski assistance to fling them into waves, the idea being that the faster you go, the higher you can launch, another of Stack’s specialties. He’s light, he’s preternaturally agile, and he has a lot of big-air experience riding skateboards. To make things interesting, they hold it at night under massive spotlights. Next month he’ll be battling against pros from around the world in the Unsound Pro at Long Beach. With the home-court advantage, the odds stack in his favor.
The last world-class surfer to come out of the Big Apple was Rick Rasmussen in the seventies. He became known first for his bold tube riding at Pipeline, then for getting busted with a kilo of coke in Bali. He was eventually shot dead in the streets of Harlem in a deal gone bad. Since then there have been small flickers but no real contenders. Which is yet another reason why Stack’s success would be so sweet. He’d be the flag-flier for surfers in unlikely places, the little engine that proved that great surfers can come from anywhere, even New York.
The hopes of a new generation of urban surfers are a lot for a 15-year-old boy to shoulder, but Stack bears the weight lightly. What really drives him is his sense of play. The rigors of competition have yet to strip the fun out of it. When he comes unglued, for instance, and has to swim to shore to retrieve his board, he bodysurfs a few waves, as if to prove his act is not confined to just standing. And when he does wash in, he scuttles across the shiny sand, grabs his board, and then rolls back out on the same surge as if riding the ebb and flow of the sea, a giddy child bedazzled by water.