Keeping a secret has never been so difficult. With smartphones and the kind of performative social interactions they encourage (selfies, food porn, location tagging, humble brags, et al), the world is a little less mysterious; and arguably a little less fun.

A delightful surprise, then, to learn that Jax’s Cody Thompson won a cool $5k on Friday at the Red Bull Night Riders tow-at surf contest, held this year in front of a crowd-less beach at the Mayport Poles.

Secrets, secrets, are SO fun. || Red Bull Night Riders at Mayport, Florida, USA on 20 November, 2020.

The annual event has become one of the most popular surf contests on the East Coast, a logistical feat encompassing jet skis and tow ropes, stadium lights, and the world’s top aerialists. Not only did Red Bull bring in marquee talent (Cory Lopez, Balaram Stack, Cody and Evan Thompson, Eric Geiselman, and Robbie McCormick) and a top-tier judging panel (Asher Nolan, Blake Jones, and CJ Hobgood) to one of the region’s most popular breaks. They brought in Dave Pickett’s Mayport-based shrimp boat, Miss Montie, to light up the wave field.

And they kept it all secret. That’s some kind of subterfuge, especially considering how tight-knit the Jax surf community is.

Even considering the event’s hush-hush nature, the competitors cranked up the volume, using warbly Nor’easter-produced ramps to launch big, tech-y boosts. Thompson’s top score of 7.5 narrowly edged out Geiselman’s 7.15, bringing the Night Riders title back to Jacksonville after Stack’s 2019 win.

Your winner, Cody Thompson, doesn’t seem to be missing the roar of the crowd. || Red Bull Night Riders at Mayport, Florida, USA on 20 November, 2020.

“This was probably the toughest field we’ve ever had at the event,” Thompson said of this year’s contest.

Far from fancying some kind of VIP-style exclusivity for this year’s Night Riders, the pandemic warranted a new approach. That meant judges sitting on separate platforms, mask mandates, and no crowds–hence the secrecy.

“For Red Bull to hold this every year in Jacksonville out of anywhere in the world means a lot to the local surfers,” said Thompson. “And even those who don’t surf who just appreciate the competition.”