The annual Tommy Tant Memorial Surf Classic is one of the longest-standing surf contests in the East Coast. Established in memory of Flagler Beach local surfer Tommy Tant, who unexpectedly passed away at the age of 24 from an aortic aneurysm, the contest has grown into a community fixture anticipated year after year. It creates a unique environment for friends and family to gather around our favorite place—the ocean—to celebrate lives of the past, enjoy surf and friendships today, and knit us together for a stronger tomorrow.
Tommy Tant grew up in a tight-knit surf community in the small town of Flagler Beach, Florida. He was known as a fun-loving and thrill-seeking friend who loyally looked out for those around him.
In 1998, he tragically passed away in his sleep from an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm. His death shook the community to its core. But through the loss, the community gained a deepened sense of the fragility of life and the value of friendships.
A year after his death, the Flagler Palm Coast High School marketing class approached the Tant family with the idea of holding a surf contest in Tommy’s memory. After a successful first year, the community continued to organize and host the event for the next three years. In a multitude of ways, the annual ritual of celebrating Tommy’s life carried the family through their initial season of grief. It rehabilitated the community, too.
Ultimately, the family found lasting hope and comfort in the Christian worldview, and the contest became a place where they could walk alongside and encourage others in the midst of their suffering.
In its fifth year, Tommy’s younger brother, Will, stepped into the role of event director. Tommy was a perennial influence in Will’s life, always challenging him to live outside of his comfort zone and strive for his full potential (as older brothers tend to do). Will, a professional surfer at the time, wanted to carry on the same encouragement of the next generation of Flagler County youth.
The Contest Today
Over the last 20-plus years, the contest has evolved into an annual tradition that brings together surfers from all along the East Coast. It is often described as “a community event with a surf contest,” which speaks to the unique bonds forged in the peaks and valleys of living life together in a small community.
In 2021, Flagler Beach Mayor Suzie Johnston officially declared October 21st Tommy Tant Day, saying, “This event serves to remind the community how we can turn grief into goodness.”
The continued support of faithful volunteers and sponsors is the lifeblood of the event. The contest has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to local scholarships, contributions to local food banks, and the Marfan Foundation, which conducts research for genetic connective tissue disorders like the one that affects the Tant family.
“’The Tommy’ has gone from being something I attended with reluctance to being one of my favorite weekends of the year. As a memorial, it creates an atmosphere to appreciate those we love while doing what we love.”
–Will Tant, brother of Tommy Tant