Last week Andrew reached out to me to do a short community-focused write up for Surf Exchange Co. As the doldrums of another tourist-filled Lake Atlantic summer get washed away with the direct hit of tropical storm Henri, the excitement and anticipation of hurricane season and “local’s summer” comes into sharp focus. The arrival of fall also means the return of one of our favorite surf-centric gatherings: Battle of the Beach in Matunuck. I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to chat about Battle of the Beach and the man behind the event, Conrad Ferla.

Love him or hate him, you can’t get too far into a chat about Rhode Island surfing without Conrad’s name being brought up. From repping some of our most well known east-coast brands to being the lead (and often-times raucous) spokesperson for the coastal access battle going on in South County, Conrad truly is, in my eyes anyways, the epitome of what it means to be a Rhode Island surfer. I wanted to take this opportunity and platform Andrew has given me to write a little bit about Conrad, his contributions to our community, and tell you a bit about the return of Battle of the Beach from the grips of Covid. I encourage you to read this with an open heart and I’ll briefly explain my journey in learning to appreciate this one-of-a-kind human.

Photos by Ted Sorlien

Photos by Ted Sorlien

My first experiences with Conrad were probably a lot like yours. I was in high-school, still figuring out the ropes of surfing. I’d either hear him (before I could see him) in the parking lot, barking about the waves or the tourists or whatever he felt like berating about that day. Or I’d be paddling for a wave and inside of me I’d see this vibrant American Flag Hyperflex wetsuit filled with a juggernaut of a human barreling towards me. I knew not to drop. If he’d run into me (90 lbs of skin and bone soaking wet at the time) I’d probably be tossed up onto the deck of the Coast Guard House. 

As I got to know Conrad over the years I knew I would never truly see eye-to-eye with his surfing ethos and approach to surfing and brand-rep culture, but it’s those differences that made it even more important to me to form a friendship with this unique dude. If there’s one thing I know about Conrad it's that he is unapologetically himself, and to me, that’s the most radical thing someone can be. Conrad cares about surfing and this surf community, and his words are backed up by his actions. His efforts to protect our rights to shoreline access through his project “Saving Coastal Access RI” is a testament to this. 

As we see more and more wealthy out-of-staters (mostly non-surfers) buy what used to be blue-collar worker’s and fishermen’s shacks along the coast and tear them down to build their mansions that they will likely only use for a small portion of the year, we have also seen the removal of parking and access to our beloved surf spots that New England surfers and water-lovers alike have utilized for decades. Many of us have strong opinions on how messed up it all is, but few of us actually have the drive and wherewithal to take action against it. Conrad is one of these few, and I admire the hell out of him for it. And to see how his approach to this battle has progressed over the years is a testament to his desire to actually make a difference, not just complain about it (those of us who have followed Conrad and this fight since the beginning know that it really used to just be complaining in the parking lot and on social media LOL).

Photo by Ted Sorlien

Photo by Ted Sorlien

Since then, Conrad, along with many others, have formed a real movement and have instilled some actual change. The gist of it… they got street parking back on a few of our beloved avenues! But now all of the homeowners are suing the town for allowing it, so the battle will surely continue, and I would bet that Conrad will be right there as the spokesman for the issue, continuing to fight for our rights to our beloved ocean and coastline. And how do I know Conrad is genuinely in this for the interest of the community and not himself? He decided to donate all proceeds for the upcoming Battle of the Beach contest to the Ocean Recovery Community Alliance or ORCA for short, which leads me to my next discussion point… BOTB 9!!!

This year on October 2nd, Conrad’s annual contest Battle of the Beach is back on. This event is genuinely one of my favorite events of the year. It’s a day to get together with all of our surfing and beach loving friends and boogie down at the Ocean Mist. With grom, mens, womens longboard and shortboard events, BOTB truly is a contest that all surfers can get behind and enjoy. And although it is a contest, competitiveness is really an afterthought. BOTB is really about sharing waves and creating memories with friends and family and building our surf community together. 

This year, CVRRENT & Surf Exchange Co. are partnering to provide coverage of the event. Our goal is to shoot as much video of the contest and then make a recap video that we will show the following weekend at a surf-swap/party (hopefully at Whaler’s Brewery but that is TBD at the moment). CVRRENT and Hot Water Men will also be partnering to run our infamous “Cvrrent Costume Blitz” which will be a 30-minute heat where the only requirement for entry is to show up to surf in a costume. Rumor has it that it might get a bit cheeky this year.

Artwork by @I_SEA_DRISCOLL

Artwork by @I_SEA_DRISCOLL

At the end of the day, I am proud to call Conrad a friend and I am inspired by his drive and determination to protect our rights as surfers and ocean-lovers. My friendship with Conrad shows that you don’t necessarily have to agree about everything to appreciate and see value in someone else. In the end, that is what makes communities like surfing and art special. We are allowed and encouraged to have differences in lifestyles, approaches, and opinions. It’s important to have strings and commonalities that connect people in a community. For us, it’s surfing and our relationship and appreciation of the ocean. Celebrating the different ways we approach that relationship is what makes a community strong and resilient. I think the bottom line is that we respect those differences and each other. And we should all take Conrad’s lead and fight to protect this special community we have all built together. We’re looking forward to creating more memories at this years’ Battle of the Beach and the afterparty the following weekend. Hopefully we see you there!

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