Sunshine and great waves bring surfers together to honor Dollie Sue Watson and bring awareness to heart health.
For the first time, the Ponce Inlet jetty was home to the 11th-annual May Day Memorial Surf Classic, which took place on Saturday, May 8.
Flagler Beach had always been the location of the event but the lure of Ponce’s high performance waves and the organizational logistics brought about a change of venue for the event that brings awareness to heart health.
Haley Michelle Stephens, the event creator, was 14-years-old when her mother died of heart disease at the age of 48. Stephens’ mom, Dollie Sue Watson, was an intensive care unit nurse at the Halifax Health Medical Center and had suffered her first heart attack in 1998 at the age of 20. Stephens was still mourning the loss of her mom at the age of 18-years-old when she started the competition.
“I knew I could either feel sorry for myself or I could make a difference and I wanted to make a difference,” Stephens said. “So that was the start of the surf competition. It has turned into this celebration of life and love and community and togetherness, celebrating not only my mom but all of our moms.”
Stephens said that it was an accident that the surf classic fell on Mother’s Day weekend. She had lost track of the day throughout the years and picked the second weekend in May for her first surf memorial, which ended up being Mother’s Day weekend.
“Without moms, there would be no groms,” event announcer Travis Ajay said. “I have been doing this event for all 11 years and announcing for about 20. I helped Haley get it started. She’s my best friend.”
A total of 106 competitors, increased sponsorship and a whopping $8,586 in fundraising to be donated directly to the Halifax Health Foundation in memory of Dollie Sue Watson were this year’s record breaking numbers in comparison to the event’s previous 10 years. The proceeds are earmarked for the Center for Cardiology, which will help provide state of the art equipment toward offering world class health care for this community.
A bevy of professional surfers sprinkled the ranks of the locals competing at the surf classic. Model and "Baywatch" actor Eros Exarhou placed first in the men's pro division while teenager Delaney Spruill placed first in the women's pro division. Stephens is also a professional surfer but she is mom to two-year-old toddler Mason and went out with the surf moms. Last September, she placed first in the women’s shortboard division at the ESA Easterns Surfing Championships.
“I hope that one day, if Mason would like to surf I will support him,” Stephens said. “But my reason behind continuing with competitive surfing is to set a positive example for Mason to never give up doing what you enjoy doing and always try your best.”