Gone are the days when Richie Collins would pound his head against the wall in frustration or get into fights. Gone is his nickname, "Skeletor," along with his new-wave haircut and cocky attitude.
His life style and appearance have changed along with his surfing fortunes. Collins, using bold maneuvers, defeated defending champion Tom Curren Sunday to win the Op Pro Surfing Championships Sunday in front of about 20,000 at the Huntington Beach Pier.
Frieda Zamba, of Flagler Beach, Fla., overcame a bout with the flu and defeated Kim Mearig of Carpinteria in the women's final. Kelly Slater of Cocoa Beach, Fla., beat Rob Machado of Cardiff to win the Op Junior amateur title.
Collins, of Newport Beach, earned $8,000 for the victory and Curren, of Santa Barbara, earned $4,000. Zamba won $4,000.
The victory marked a turning point for Collins, a gangly 20-year-old who designs his boards in his Costa Mesa shop. A born-again Christian, Collins said finding the faith has helped him put surfing, and his life, in perspective.
Frustrated when he would do poorly in a contest, Collins used to take his aggression out on himself--and others.
"I was fighting myself," Collins said. "I was breaking things using my head. I would get into fights a lot.
"After the Gotcha (surf championships in June), I couldn't handle life anymore. I started going to church."
Collins, the 15th-seeded surfer, knew he had to catch several waves and build an early lead against Curren, a two-time world champion. Collins caught 11 waves to Curren's eight and turned in high scores of 25 out of a possible 30 on two of his first six waves.
But Curren fought back with consistent scores of 21, 20.7 and 21.9 on his final three waves. Collins, meanwhile, tried to stall and keep Curren from catching a good wave.
Collins said he didn't think he won when the finals ended. Public-address announcers stopped reading the scores in the final 10 minutes of the 45-minute final to keep the crowd and the surfers in suspense.
"I thought Curren had won it on his last wave," Collins said. "Sometimes the judges will look at the last wave more."
Curren said he was "pretty nervous" competing in his first contest of the 1989 season. He sat out the first seven months of the year to live and train in France.
"I was a little disappointed I didn't win," he said. "We had a good heat. It was one of the best I have been in. I was glad I made it close at the end."
During the weeklong competition, Collins videotaped Curren's heats as well as his own. He studied freeze-frame shots of Curren.
"I saw that I was getting through the waves a little looser," Collins said. "But he's an awful lot stronger than I am."
Collins used the event to experiment with several new moves, including a twisting maneuver he calls the "rock 'n' roll." Collins glides down the face of the wave, twists three-fourths of the way around and then twists back the way he came. He used the high-scoring, crowd-pleasing move sparingly in the finals.
"I've been changing my style to score on faster, quicker and bigger moves," he said.
Collins placed 33rd last year and his best finish before Sunday was ninth in 1987.
"I've always wanted to win this," Collins said. "But I've always had bad luck. This year it wasn't so much luck."
A new attitude, perhaps?
"I'm just kicking back, cruising and having fun," Collins said. "Some (surfers) try to go out and blow people's minds, but I just go out and hang five."
Finals--Richie Collins (Newport Beach) def. Tom Curren (Santa Barbara) 108.3-106.1.
Semifinals--Curren def. Marty Thomas (Sunset Beach, Hawaii) 76.3-69.5. Collins def. Sunny Garcia (Waianae, Hawaii) 76.5-68.5.
Kelly Slater (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) def. Rob Machado (Cardiff) 97.4-89.5.
Frieda Zamba (Flagler Beach, Fla.) def. Kim Mearig (Carpinteria) 91-64.8.