By Moira Bailey
When legendary surfer Rell Sunn died of cancer in 1998, Montauk surfer and businessman Roger Feit was inspired to organize a surf competition to both celebrate her life and raise money for cancer awareness. On Aug. 2, the 16th Annual Rell Sunn Surf Contest will draw surfers of all ages to Ditch Plains beach in Montauk to continue the tradition, one that’s evolved to help local families navigate the financial rip tides of cancer and serious illness. The funds are disbursed through the East End Foundation, co-founded by Feit, often in modest amounts that can still make a “huge difference,” whether to bridge a mortgage payment or cushion the loss of a job.
And because it’s a local effort, Feit can describe exactly who the money raised this year will help: a widow whose husband recently died of brain cancer; a man out of work for a stretch while his wife’s been fighting cancer; two children who’ve just lost their father; a single mom whose son’s battling cancer. Feit works with Alice Houseknecht, an East End Foundation director, on “due diligence” to assess each situation, often brought to their attention by friends or neighbors. Through the years, Feit guesses they’ve raised some $300,000.
“Montauk is a special place for a lot of reasons,” says Feit, 68, who credits a connected community for the event’s success. “There’s a lot of goodness in the people,” he says. “The community has been coming together for years and years.” For kids in the annual surf competition, especially, Feit says there’s fun but also a reminder “it’s really benefiting somebody.” That, plus they see family and friends working on the event, from selling T-shirts and raffle tickets to cleaning up the beach after. And Feit’s seen some happy outcomes: one boy, a cancer patient whose family home was saved by donations years ago, is now “completely healthy.”
This year’s surf contest starts at 8 a.m. and features events in various categories (long boards to paddle boards to “whatever you want to ride or wear”) for both children and adults. “The little kids get into it,” says Feit , who guesses some 60 to 70 surfers will take to the waves this year. Activities on dry land include a raffle (with prizes donated by local merchants including The Atlantic Terrace, Gosman’s Dock and Yoga Lila), T-shirt sales, and an auction featuring works by local artists. “It’s a celebration of surfing,” says Feit. “It’s a celebration of life.”
For more information: http://www.gofundme.com/Rell-Sun-Surf-Benefit or https://www.facebook.com/rellsunsurfcontestbenefit.
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Special thanks to Jesse Anthony Spooner and Tyler Brueur for announcing this year’s event!