By Hanna Schweder
Photo provided by Nick Bricker
SPENDING countless hours with your best friend is a summer ritual for most kids. For friends Nick Bricker and Lance Miller, that ritual has become a lifelong bond and one that has done a world of good for many people.
Nick met Lance on the Ocean City Boardwalk when he was nine years old. They became instant friends with a shared love of surfing.
“Lance has been one of my closest friends for my whole life,” Nick said.
It was Lance’s dad Chip who stoked the passion of surfing for the boys.
“Chip would take us all over to surf. In those days a lot of parents would take you to the shore and drop you off. Chip would drive us every weekend and buy us breakfast, buy us lunch,” said Nick. “He’d sit on the beach and read a book or newspaper and let us surf. He’d take care of us.”
In 2003, Nick received a devastating call from Lance.
“Lance told me his dad was sick with Amyloidosis,” said Nick. “He put [Chip] on the phone and he said, ‘send me some unsalted peanuts from Atlantic City.’ He couldn’t have salt. I thought, ‘what is this?’ I’ve never heard of it. By the time we knew more about it, he was gone.”
Amyloidosis is a disease that has a handful of types which involve an accumulation of proteins or mutated cells that cause abnormal protein buildup in tissues or organs. Without quick diagnosis and treatment, the disease eventually leads to organ failure and death.
The exact cause of the disease is unknown in many cases.
“The problem is, more people have it than know they have it. And they don’t know how to diagnosis it and by the time doctors know what it is, when they finally pinpoint it, it’s too late. That’s what happened in Chip’s case,” Nick said.
For Chip, the disease surfaced as flu-like symptoms and weakness. In his case, the clinical trials available at the time and invasive treatments weren’t enough. About three months after diagnosis, Chip was gone. When he passed, Nick wanted to take action to try to help others.
“I wanted to do a surf fest,” Nick said. “Lance and his mom said, ‘Okay, we’ll help in any way we can.’”
From there, the Chip Miller Amyloidosis Charitable Foundation was born, and along with it, the popular Chip Miller Surf Fest, the summer surfing competition which celebrates its 13th year this month.
Major Surf Fest sponsors Billabong and Subaru have helped create an event that is all about surfing, but also raises anywhere from $15-25,000 per year to help those suffering with Amyloidosis and further research. All of which, Nick says, is raised due to the help of volunteers from the community and all of the area surf shops as well as support from Ocean City.
“Every surf shop in town has been a supporter since day one,” Nick said.
And many pro surfers have taken notice of the event in the last decade.
“We’ve had some big names. Bethany Hamilton came a couple years,” Nick said. “We’ve been spoiled with the celebrity surfers, but I want to do more giving back, so we’re working more with the Heart of Surfing.”
An hour break in the middle of the surf contest is dedicated to this group, which works with special needs kids and helps get them involved in sports and the community.
“Last year we had all the pro surfers take the special needs kids out surfing,” says Nick. “We gave it an extra half-hour because the kids were having so much fun.”
New this year is an “after party” that will take over the entire OC Waterpark and feature the band Atley Moon with drinks and dinner. New Jersey pro surfer Rob Kelly will be joining in the fun too.
The big-ticket treat at this year’s Surf Fest will be East Coast surfing icon Pete Dooley. Pete was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in 2004 and is the founder of surfing brand Natural Art.
“Some of the best surfers in the world rode for him,” Nick said.
But more than that, Pete discovered he also has a form of Amyloidosis.
So this year the Chip Miller Foundation will be working with Pete to document his treatment and progress of the disease, and continuing to spread awareness.
Though organizing the annual event takes months of work, Nick credits the continued success over the last decade to the volunteers. Still, his own hard work has led to the spreading the knowledge of this disease which may get people in to their doctors sooner, get the right tests, hopefully leading to a better prognosis and extension of their lives.
“Chip always used to say that I was going to be president.” Nick said, smiling. “He just really supported me.”
To learn more about Amyloidosis or to register for this year’s Chip Miller Surf Fest, visit Chipmiller.org.