The former pro surfer for California-based surf, skate and music company Hurley, who is now their director of marketing, points to figures that show the number of Americans who surf — whether it be in southern California or amongst the whitecaps on Lake Michigan — continues to increase on a yearly basis.
O’Connell and a cast of other pro surfers from Hurley might have helped spread their love of the sport to a younger generation at the Grand Haven City Beach on Tuesday, during Hurley’s eighth-annual “Rip My Shred Stick Tour.”
The tour, which was making one of 30 stops on its summer-long circuit, allowed children 16 years and younger to test their skills in a friendly competition on Hurley surf boards on flat waters on Lake Michigan while interacting with Hurley’s surfers. Each child who competed received a Hurley gift bag complete with merchandise.
Professional surfers in attendance included Beau Foster, Taylor Pai, AJ Collins and Noah Snyder.
“Ideally, we just want this to be a fun day at the beach for the kids,” O’Connell said, who spent 12 years competing on the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour. “Before, when we did promotional tours, we’d put the pro surfers behind a table to sign autographs. That’s kind of lame. Here, we want the kids to be the stars and get a chance to interact with the surfers.
“We don’t expect to get great waves on Lake Michigan, but the thing we hope for is the kids did get to see something different and something that they’ll enjoy. Plus, it’s a nice day out and it’s a great time on the beach.”
With no wake in sight, children made the most of the opportunity to attempt some acrobatic tricks on the boards. Most stood on a paddle board, which are generally much wider than a typical surf board.
Muskegon’s Madeline Eckerman, 11, was one of the more daring on the board, as she attempted a handstand, somersault and other tricks — with the encouragement of Hurley’s surfers pushing her through the water. Her younger sister Elizabeth, 6, also got a push through the water on the board, but was a little less daring.
“The water was really cold and I didn’t want to fall in,” Madeline said. “It was a lot of fun trying new things. They kept asking me what I wanted to do next. It was easy to try (the tricks) because the boards were wider and I had lots of room to move around.”
After hitting the beach in Traverse City on Monday and Grand Haven Tuesday, the Hurley bus will travel to Chicago today — O’Connell’s hometown until he was 12 and moved to California. He was impressed with what Grand Haven had to offer.
“When I woke up this morning and looking out, it was like, ‘Where are we?’” he said with a laugh. “With the light coming in, it kind of resembled the beaches in California. It’s a great location.”
The Grand Haven tour stop was presented by local business MACkite.