Anyone who knows about Jersey Surfing knows about Sam Hammer. I first met Sam while working at the Crabs Claw Inn in Lavallette more summers ago then I care to count.  At the time, he was just coming into his own as a surfer.  He was methodically building a reputation as someone that really represents what Jersey Surfing looks like in its finest form.  In the time that I worked with Sam I knew him to be driven, humble and focused.  

Through the years since, Sam has been a champion for surfing, and a point of pride to the Jersey Scene.  He has built a successful career as a professional and is recognized as an ambassador for the Garden Sate.  I caught up with him recently to talk all things Jersey Surfing. 

Sam Setting the Standard for the Garden State (Photo: D. Cresitello)

Sea Sand Surf:  I guess I will start by saying that I have kept up with your surfing though the magazines and it is has been awesome to see you progress.  Do you remember the first time you had a photo run?

Sam Hammer: Yeah, I had a postage stamp in Eastern Surf Magazine when I was seventeen.

SSS: Do you still have it? 

Hammer: Of course.  I try to keep a copy of everything that runs even the stuff in the international magazines.  I am only missing two, one was a shot from a  Magazine called Black Water and the other was from a surf magazine in Uruguay.

SSS: As a public service announcement: anyone with a copy of Black Water surf magazine get in touch.  Sam wants to complete his collection!

Hammer: (laughing) It’s not like that.

SSS:  But it is a point of pride to see your photos published?

Hammer:  Definitely.  There is a pride factor involved.  It is also a sense of accomplishment.  When traveling for my sponsor Billabong it is important that I come back from the trips with photos, so having them published lets me know that I am getting the job done. 

Sam Getting the Job Done (Photo Donald Cresitello)

SSS:  What gives you that work ethic?  It must be tough to get somewhere and not want to blow the whole thing off so you can drink beer and sleep on the beach?

Hammer:  Well, my parents are a huge inspiration.  They always taught me that it was important to do things the right way, and I take that attitude into my surfing.

SSS: It seems to be paying off.  The last spread I remember seeing you involved in was a feature for on a surf trip to Norway.  Where have you been to surf?

Hammer: At this point I have been really lucky to have been around the world.  Indo, Chile, Tahiti, Hawaii, Iceland a bunch of times, Norway, Mexico and recently Russia?

SSS:  So Billabong has been good to you?

Hammer: Very.

SSS: What was Russia like?  Was it all big fur hats and vodka?

Hammer:  (laughs) No, that was a bummer.  We got there with the intention of finding some unique breaks and exploring the culture, but we got completely skunked.

SSS: What do you make of the New Jersey Surf Scene?

Making the Most of the Jersey Scene (Photo: Donald Cresitello)

Hammer: I think it is great.  We have a really active ocean year round and we get waves that are amazing.  There has been so much growth in the sport in recent years and I think that the progression is awesome.  There are so many guys that are surfing so well right now and I think it is great that people are taking advantage of the beautiful ocean that we have.

SSS:  What do you say about the idea of localism and the growth in crowds? 

Hammer:  I think it is ridiculous.  This is not Pipeline.  I understand that certain breaks need regulation, especially in places where the conditions can put people in the way of serious harm, but that is not the case with Jersey.  When we get some real size that thins the pack plenty, and on any given day you can find a beach break to yourself if you look around.

Sam, Taking Advantage of a Thin Herd (Photo: Donald Cresitello)

SSS: So localism is a dead issue in your eyes?

Hammer:  Localism is for people who don’t get out and see the world.  If people did they would realize that everyone is a tourist somewhere. 

SSS: And in Jersey we have this whole “Benny Go Home Thing” too.

Hammer:  Yeah (laughs).  I don’t get that.  I know some kids who work for tips that are like “I wish these Bennys would leave.”  They just don’t get it.  Tourism is such an important part of New Jersey. We have amazing beaches and people want to experience them.  Surfing is so much fun, and who can blame people for wanting to get in the water.  Plus, if you are any good, you will still get your waves.  Sure, someone might get in your way now and then, but is that really a big deal?

SSS: As a Jersey surfer, I take it as a point of pride to see that you are getting waves and traveling the world.  It validates the fact that we do get good waves and there is plenty of great surfing here.  I know a signifier of the Jersey Scene is the Smith Optics Garden State Grudge Match and you are the returning champion two years running.  Do you plan on defending the belt this year?

Hammer:  Absolutely.  I love that contest.  With so many awesome surfers in the state I want to surf my best for the Grudge Match. Everyone who enters really wants to win and so there is a lot of tension and it is super competitive.  In the water there is a lot of Jockeying and everyone is focused on getting the best waves possible.

SSS: So no intentions of giving the belt up?

Hammer: (Laughs) Absolutely not.  I am going to hold it down for as long as I can. Everyone in New Jersey respects the Grudge Match. It is where the best surfers in the state come together with one goal in mind, to be the champion.  People outside of the state recognize the Grudge Match for what it is too, so it allows for a higher level of exposure.

Everyone in NJ has a Grudge. Sam Knows How to Handle His. (Photo: Donald Cresitello)

SSS: Is there a certain amount of trash talk involved?  It seems like there is a theatrical element to the thing like the WWE.

Hammer: This is New Jersey. You can’t expect it any other way.

SSS: Has anyone threatened to body slam you off of the pier before?

Hammer: No, but if they thought they might win by doing it they probably would. (laughing)

SSS: The rivalries are real though?

Hammer:  Sure.  New Jersey Surfers have so much of pride. I know that there are some people that are not happy with the fact that I won last year.  It was a really tight competition and the final heat between Gessler and I came down to the closing moments.

SSS: Do you feel your knowledge of the waves along Casino Pier played a major factor?

Hammer: Wave knowledge goes a long way, especially in shifting conditions and Casino Pier is in my backyard.  It means a bunch to be able to win contests there because it is such an awesome place to surf.  Everyone on the East Coast knows about Casino Pier and it has so much history.

Casino Pier at Sunrise

SSS:  Given that you are a three time champ and the only back-to-back winner of the Grudge Match do you have a bulls-eye on your back?

Hammer:  Of course.  I respect everyone who is in the event so much, but I want to keep the title and I know they are hungry.  Guys like Andrew Gessler, Mike Gleason and Frankie Walsh want to win as badly as I do and they surf so well.

SSS: Who else is surfing at a high level right now?

Hammer: Truthfully, anyone who qualifies for the event is a legitimate player.   Pat Schmidt is surfing really strong. So is P.J. Raia and Zach Humphreys.  There are just too many quality surfers to name them all. 

SSS: What about the guys who feel they belong but didn’t get invited to the dance?     

Hammer:  They need to get through the qualifier like everyone else.       

SSS: What about wave quality for the event?

A Couple of These Waves and Sam Might Be Champ Again (Photo D. Cresitello)

Hammer: Rob Cloupe and the whole crew do an amazing job waiting for optimal conditions.  Last year we had two North East storms in play.  When New Jersey is on, there are few places better in my opinion.  Pound for pound we get solid swells and the waves allow for a wide variety or maneuvers and a progressive approach.

SSS: So you are doing it for Jersey pride.

Hammer: Yep. 

SSS:  I know you started a surf camp in conjunction with Billabong?  What made you want to do that?

Hammer:  I saw it as a new opportunity to share my love of surfing and of the ocean with other people.  It is awesome to be able to provide individual attention to the students and see them get as stoked about the sport as I am. 

SSS:  Have you seen a number of your students fall in love with the sport?

Hammer: Definitely.  Surfing is one of those things that you just can’t explain in words no matter how hard you try.  It is really cool to see the look on people’s faces the first time they ride a wave.

SSS:  I know that the camp was successful this year.  Is it something you are going to continue?

Hammer: Definitely.

Who Can't Use a Pointer from One of Jersey's Best? (Photo D. Cresitello)

SSS:  What else is on the horizon?

Hammer:  Mike Gleason and I are planning on tow surfing big waves in a partnership with Red Bull and ABC in the near future. We have been tracking storms for some time now and are looking at running a mission between September and December.

SSS:  Where?

Hammer: Not letting the cat out of the bag on that one. (laughs)

 SSS: Anything else?

Hammer:  The premier of The Dark Fall by Alex DePhillipo at the House of Blues in Atlantic City will be on August 13th. We are also starting work on Get in the Van II.  Brian Nevins, Joe Carter and LaVecchia make hysterical movies and this is guaranteed to be good.

SSS:  Well, I appreciate you spending some time.  Keep representing Jersey well.  Maybe we can catch up again in the future.

Hammer:  Sure thing.

 

*Special thanks to Tim Bourne for his technical support on this publication and to Donald Cresitello for the great photos.

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Comments
  1. steven mast says:

    Nice interview. Good to see some ongoing life on the right coast. San Diego surfers don’t believe there is any intelligent life East of the 5. I’ve heard of snow birds, q-tips and Zonies, but what’s a Bennie?

    • Matt says:

      Ha! I think Bennie stands for Bayone, Elizabeth, Newark, Nutley, Islen and Englewood (or any other combination of towns that are in the northern part of NJ). Just a local tag for a tourist.

      How about q-tips and Zonies?

  2. Karen says:

    f “jersey” and all nationalistic statist approaches to viewing reality… borders were carved up by imperialist exploiters.. there is no organic “state” silly

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