The men's final of the Op Pro Surfing Championships at Huntington Beach was almost anticlimactic for many spectators Sunday, since the reigning world champion and Southern California favorite--Tom Curren of Carpinteria--had been upset earlier in the day.
Curren was beaten on the last wave of his semifinal heat by defending champion Mark Occhilupo of Australia.
Occhilupo went on to beat fellow Australian Glen Winton in the final, which was marred by a riot on the beach behind the grandstands.
"It was a good final--it had two Australians in it," said Occhilupo, who is not called Cocky Occhi for nothing. "I was just more aggressive and more psyched."
Winton's nickname, Mr. X, refers to the fact that, despite doing relatively well on the tour, he has received little publicity.
"He's a really hot surfer, but he's always like the guy in the shadows," said defending women's world champion Frieda Zamba. "He says he likes it that way, that he surfs better with less pressure on him."
Zamba of Flagler Beach, Fla., was the only American to withstand a wave of Australian success in the contest. She defeated Pam Burridge of Australia to earn her second title. She also won in 1984.
Zamba said she believes part of her victory was due to her ability to squeeze out longer rides, in surfing terms, "connecting" her moves on outside waves with another set of maneuvers in the breakers.
"It's really hard in this contest to get all the way into the beach," she said. "But it was really fun today."
Curren's defeat, his first of the season after winning four previous events, was due more to his poor paddling than a poor performance on the board. He needed one more good ride in the last minutes of the heat, but the stockier Occhilupo beat him in a paddling race back to the priority buoy to earn rights to the best waves.
Curren had to take a smaller wave near shore, while Occhilupo got a bigger wave and rode it all the way to the beach for a higher score.
"I had to take anything I could get," Curren said. "If I hadn't gotten any wave, it would have been all over anyway."
Curren finished tied for third with Martin Potter, but retains the lead in the world tour standings. Occhilupo's victory moves him for eleventh to fourth place in the standings.
Due to the outbreak of fighting in the crowd on the beach a quarter mile south of the contest, the executive director of the Assn. of Surfing Professionals, Ian Cairns, said this might be the last Op Pro. More than 100 police officers were called to quell the disturbance, in which four police and beach cars were destroyed and at least twelve people were injured.
Cairns said neither the ASP nor the sponsors may be willing to schedule another large contest in the L.A. area due to liability.
"I don't want anything to do with an event that causes this kind of situation," Cairns said. "I'm afraid people here in Los Angeles can't handle it and I'm certain the Op people have the same sentiment. There will never be another event in Huntington Beach, I'd say."