The contest named for Buddy Pelletier will come to an end next weekend with its 20th iteration. (Contributed photo)

ATLANTIC BEACH — The Buddy Pelletier Memorial Longboard Classic is looking to go out in style.

The feel-good event will come to a close with its 20th contest next weekend at Oceanana Pier, and plenty of people want to be there.

“We’ve had a lot of interest,” said Jessica Holleman, who directs the contest with Bill Roach. “We’ve seen sponsor interest, spectator interest, participant interest.”

The classic, created as a memorial to Pelletier, a former top-ranked and Hall of Fame pro surfer who died of cancer at age 44, is the biggest community outreach for The Buddy Pelletier Surfing Foundation.

It was supposed to finish out its run in 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic led to its cancellation.

A year later, people are stoked to return to the beach.

“It’s looking like it might be big based on our registration numbers,” Holleman said. “We’re at 94 right now, and we still have plenty to sign up. We usually have about 100, and when it gets to 120, that’s big for us, so we might be in that territory.”

The continuing enthusiasm for the event, ironically enough, is one of the reasons organizers are bringing it to an end.

“We want to go out on a high note,” Holleman said. “And it’s not that we won’t do anything ever again, but this contest, in this form, it feels like the right time. We’re good with the decision we’ve made.”

The tournament will start at 7 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. There will be a beach party Saturday night from 7:30-10:30 p.m. with reggae band Selah Dubb performing.

A shuttle will run from Crystal Coast Unity Church on both days as parking is limited at Oceanana.

Pelletier started the foundation just before his death in 1995. It has been a benefit to many over the years, raising money to send students to college, in addition to humanitarian aid projects along the East Coast.

The classic started just a few years later.

Surfers fiercely compete for top awards in The Buddy, but the contest is unlike most other tournaments.

The event prides itself on promoting a good-natured competitive spirit without harboring the cutthroat attitude found in most other professional surfing competitions.

Pelletier was a top-ranked surfer with the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) in the 1980s, winning many championships.

Throughout his career, he was featured in numerous surfing publications, such as Surfer Magazine, U.S. Surf and Surfing.

He also received an Act of Heroism award for saving the lives of two children during the Cocoa Beach Surfing Festival, where he won the professional division.

Pelletier retired to Puerto Rico, but when longboards came back into fashion and a competitive circuit got under way, he decided to see if he still had it. He proved he did, winning the Puerto Rican National Longboard Championship three times.

He was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Legends Hall of Fame in 2000 for his contributions to the sport of surfing through competition and through his involvement with young surfers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Florida.

Known as the “Southern Gentleman” of the pro circuit, the East Coast Surfing Championships recognized Pelletier’s contribution to the sport by naming its sportsmanship award after him.

The East Coast Surfing Championships are held annually in Virginia Beach, Va., the country’s oldest surfing competition and second oldest in the world.

For more information on the classic or the foundation, visit the web at buddypelletier.com.

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