Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Teen Has International Aims; Fletcher Sophomore Won Bronze in Ecuador

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Teen Has International Aims; Fletcher Sophomore Won Bronze in Ecuador

Article excerpt

Byline: Laurie Cason, Times-Union sports writer

Fifteen-year-old Eric Rheaume didn't know quite what to expect when he returned home in March after winning a bronze medal for the United States team in the Pan-American Surfing Championships in Ecuador.

It's not that winning is particularly new to the Fletcher High School sophomore.

In fact, Rheaume has won several championships, including the boys division of the 2001 Eastern Surfing Association (ESA) Championships in Cape Hatteras, N.C., and the locally held 2002 WaveMasters Surf Contest. This morning, Rheaume will try to repeat his success in the WaveMasters event when the first of two days of competition begins.

But just about everyone was telling Rheaume that nothing would be the same now that he had earned a third-place finish in his international surfing contest debut. His finish marked the first time in six years that a U.S. junior competitor had made the finals in the Pan-Am event, which features the top surfers from 12 Central and South American countries.

"It started before he even left the beach. People were asking for autographs, taking pictures," said Paul West, president of the United States Surfing Federation (USSF) and manager of the U.S. team that competed in Ecuador. "No one had ever heard of him outside of Jacksonville, but he's on the radar screen now. They're already talking about him in California."

That's saying a lot, considering the West Coast has traditionally taken a dim view of surfers from Florida, despite the success of athletes like Kelly Slater, C.J. Hobgood and Lisa Andersen.

To follow in the wake of the Slaters and Hobgoods, Rheaume (pronounced "Ram") will have to compete in higher-profile, international contests. And the expenses will total a lot more than Rheaume earns mowing his neighbors' lawns in Jacksonville Beach.

"It runs about $20,000 to $30,000 a year to finance travel expenses to compete in the national and international competitions," West said. …

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