Ben Bourgeois

BY Jenna Jones

In the world of professional athletics it is rare to see an unmistakable talent attain the highest level of success while maintaining a remarkable sense of self and an ever-humble ever-gracious spirit. But as world-class surfer Ben Bourgeois competes around the globe against the great surfers of our time he remains at heart the same outgoing boy who for the joy of it mastered the waves of Wrightsville Beach.

Born Benjamin Charles Bourgeois to Priscilla and Chuck Bourgeois in Atlantic City New Jersey on October 30 1978 Ben and his sisters identical twins Shana and Danielle moved with their parents to Wrightsville Beach in 1987. Since 1995 the family has owned and operated WBs renowned Sweetwater Surf Shop.

Ben began cultivating his love for the sport even before coming to Wrightsville Beach on family vacations to Florida and says he was inspired to surf by his love of skateboarding. “I liked to skateboard and it looked like skating on water.” He recalls acquiring his first surfboard at the age of five.

Following in the footsteps of his surfing heroes his uncle Brian Tracey and long-time friends Roy Turner and Mark Hunt and inspired daily by his mother Ben honed his surfing skills while growing up on the East Coast.

As the competitions grew more intense traveling became a necessity so young Ben home-schooled by Priscilla began traveling week after week making an impression in every contest he entered.

By the time he was 18 he had won the 1996 World Surfing Games held in Huntington Beach California and was gracing the pages of surf magazines throughout the country.

Already ranked eighth in the fiercely competitive mens World Qualifying Series of 2007 (WQS) last October Bourgeois earned a spot on the World Championship Tour (WCT) the top tier of the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) two-tiered system. The WCT brings together the top 45 men and 17 women to surf in locations spanning the globe competing for prize money and the coveted ASP World Title.

This year Floridas newly upgraded ONeill Sebastian Inlet Pro presented by Ron Jon in January kicked off the 2008 ASP WQS and although Bourgeois was defeated in round 16 he left his mark a 9.77 score which was day fives highest scoring wave.

On May 3 with scores of 7.83 8.33 7.53 8.83 and 7.53 in the final round of competition Ben claimed first place at the Nike 6.0 Lowers Pro Contest. With the likes of long-time surfing greats such as eight-time ASP World Champion Kelly Slater claiming wins in this competitive area known as Lower Trestles Ben once again proved his surfing ability and sent a message to all in the industry that he has become a force to be reckoned with.

Today living here on the West Coast and out of a suitcase Bens travel schedule is packed to the max he has just gotten back from Mexico and is heading to Costa Rica Nicaragua Tahiti and Fiji. Despite traveling for weeks on end while striving to be prepared mentally and physically for any wave that comes his way Ben remains grateful and humbled by his local experiences. “When I lived in Wrightsville Beach life was a lot more laid back just wake up and surf all day. Now things are a bit crazy. My schedule is out of control and when I get back to San Diego after a trip theres always a ton of things to take care of. But I love it and wouldnt change a thing. I cant complain one bit. Im living the dream for now.”

What many people watching surf videos and reading articles about Ben fail to realize is how his family and friends and Wrightsville Beach helped shape the uplifting and generous person he has turned out to be and what a profound impact he has had on them in return.

“The thing that stands out the most for me whenever Im with my brother is that he has this contagious happiness about him ” Danielle says. “Whenever youre around him he rubs off on you and its the best feeling in the world. Hes just so good to my sister and I and to our family. Hes the most inspirational person that I know.”

“He is just the best brother in the entire world. Nobody could be better than him. Theres no way ” Shana says.

“Im more proud of him for who he is as a brother and the way he has turned out even more than his accomplishments in surfing ” Danielle says. “I love to see him do well in surfing but the family the closeness that we have is unbelievable. Hes awesome.”

In the span of his relatively short but impressive career 29-year-old Ben has suffered knee injuries shoulder injuries torn hamstrings and countless numbers of bumps bruises and stitches. But growing up with two older sisters he saw his fair share of injuries at an early age.

“He was always very tolerant ” says Shana. “When he was little I remember he was like 3 years old he was on his little skateboard lying on his belly and pushing himself down the driveway. He wouldnt get out of our way so me and Danielle ran over him with our bikes. I think it was like two in a row I went first and then she went. We both ran right over the top of him and he had to get stitches poor thing. He was very tolerant of us. And he still is.”

For surfing fans to watch Ben in the water is nothing short of breathtaking and based on his performances throughout the years its safe to say that he is just beginning to captivate the world with his talent. More captivating than any performance though is his humility in all things.

When talking recently about how it felt to be a surfing legend at such a young age Ben shifted the spotlight away from himself choosing to emphasize the talent possessed by other Wrightsville Beach greats. “Im no legend ” he said. “Guys like Billy Curry and Will Allison are legends. I have a long way to go I still feel like Im just getting started.”