The story behind the 11th-annual Tommy Tant memorial surf classic.
Every year, close to a hundred surfers circle together in the waters at Flagler Beach, scooping their hands beneath their boards and splashing water high into the air.
With flowers in their hands and memories on their minds, the surf community joins together to participate in the paddle-out ceremony, held in memory of local surfer Tommy Tant.
Tommy and his younger brother, Will, grew up surfing the pier in Flagler Beach. To the Tant boys and their parents, Tom and Barbara, the beach community was like family. And it was no exception in 1998, when tragedy struck.
Tommy Tant died in his sleep from an aortic aneurysm at the age of 24. “It really struck our beach community,” Will Tant said.
A year later, Tommy Tant’s friend, Dan Worley, along with members of the Flagler Palm Coast High School marketing class and their teacher, Fran Noble, organized the first surf event to honor Tommy.
The first contest had 50 competitors in a one-day event. Proceeds provided scholarships to local students, launching the Tommy Tant Memorial Scholarship Fund.
“The community started the contest, and I think that’s really revealing to the heart of the community in Flagler Beach,” Will Tant said. “My parents and I weren’t at a place to really start it at that time, and they continue to be by our side throughout the event.”
After the success of the original event, Zoee Forehand, owner of Zwave Surf Shop, in Flagler Beach, and her staff took over the event for the next three years.
In the contest’s fifth year, Tommy’s brother (now a professional surfer), Will Tant, became the event organizer. He said he wanted to inspire and encourage the local young surfers to follow their dreams by introducing them to professional athletes and artists.
The family has run the event ever since. Now in its 11th year, the Tommy Tant Memorial Surf Classic is a nationally recognized two-day surf event with more than 300 competitors.
The event has featured world-renowned photographers Aaron Chang, Brian Nevins, Jimmy Wilson and Tony Neste; cinematographers Matt Katsolis and Nic McClean; artists Austin Blasingame and Patrick Maxcy; and musicians Braddigan (formerly of Dispatch) and Josh Garrels.
Each year, the event also features pro surfers from across the country, including past champions Aaron Cormican, Asher Nolan and Jesse Heilman.
“It’s really important for the public to know that even if you don’t surf, it’s a family-friendly event,” Will Tant said. “It’s going to be a really special year.”
All the money raised during the event goes to the Tommy Tant Memorial Scholarship Fund and the Flagler County Food Bank.
To date, the contest has given out more than $37,000 in scholarships to local students who help organize the event.
“I’m excited to be giving back to community that’s been supporting us all these years,” Will Tant said.
For more on the event visit www.tommytant.com.