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SURFING : Contest Stirs Memories of Underdog Champions

April 08, 1993|Rick Fignetti and David Reyes | Rockin' Fig is Rick Fignetti, a Huntington Beach surfer/shop owner. Times staff writer David Reyes has reported on U.S. surf teams competing in Bali and Brazil. and

Rockin' Fig isn't nostalgic often, but the Katin Team Challenge coming up this weekend at Huntington Beach had the guy flappin' about the old days and one of surfing's oldest contests.

Originally it was called the Underdog Contest and was started by Walter and Nancy Katin in 1965 as an informal competition.

Glenn Hughes, who now manages Kanvas by Katin in Surfside--just north of Huntington Beach--where they sew the famous surfer britches, recalled the early days.

"It was a low-key contest," Hughes said. "Anybody who ever won a contest couldn't surf in it. That's why they called it the Underdog Contest."

What made it fun, Fig said, was that part of the contest involved teams, including top world surfers who were not seeded and had to win their heats "just like us grommets."

Said Fig: It was a fair contest with everybody starting out at square one. They had big names in those days. Guys like Shaun Tomson, Dane Kealoha and Larry Bertlemann. You could be a full-on rookie, and your team, like, could be up against those guys. In the first heats, you'd be like paddling around looking at these big names, going, "WHOA!"

Did you ask for anyone's autograph in the water, Fig? Like, "I don't have a piece of paper, but would you please sign my forehead?"

Naw. But here's all these heavyweights with big reputations laying it on the line, and guys like me in the water with nothing to lose. It gave the newer, up-and-coming amateurs a chance to surf it out with the big guys.

Hughes, 33, said Nancy Katin hired his mother, Sato Hughes, as a seamstress in 1961 to work in back of their store sewing trunks.

"Nancy and Walter were still busy making canvas sails for boats, and the trunks hadn't caught on yet," Hughes said.

The Katins, who never had children, grew close to Mrs. Hughes and Glenn, who had the run of the shop.

"Walter Katin bought me my first fishing pole," he said. "I loved to fish. This was way back in 1967. Basically, I was their kid."

The quartet used to live on the Katins' boat, the Southern Seas, docked at Long Beach. Hughes recalled one night when the family went to dinner at Captain Jack's. He and Walter had shrimp, and Walter Katin complained of having chest pains.

"I remember waking up the next morning, a Saturday. Nancy came in and said he had had a heart attack and had died."

Although the Katin contests were no longer held, Nancy Katin continued to run the business, which switched from providing sails to dressing surfers first on the West Coast, then around the world, with her famous nylon trunks.

The thing on the Katin trunks were that they were always guaranteed on the seams. The things would last forever. If you busted a seam, you could just take 'em back and they would sew 'em up for you.

The Katin shop was always a popular hangout.

Nancy would always be in the showroom with a couple of well-known surfers, like Mike Purpus and Drew Harrison.

In 1977, Nancy Katin reintroduced the contest as a pro/am but changed the name to the Katin Team Challenge. In February, 1986, Nancy died. She left the shop to Glenn's mom, who's now 64.

"She still works as a seamstress in the back of the store," said Glenn. "I can't kick her out."

Figgy's too humble to tell you that the Katin is where he first started announcing contests. He would hang out at the announcing booth and wait until Bob Carbonell left for the men's room, and then would jump up and grab the mike.

Bill Sharp, Katin contest coordinator, said about 200 competitors and 40 teams are lined up for the contest, which starts today and goes through Sunday. In true Underdog tradition, San Clemente surfer Mike Lambresi, who lost a sponsor, is trying to put a team together of sponsorless surfers. Name? Team Generic.

Contests: Australia's Barton Lynch edged out Jeff Booth of Laguna Beach in the finals of the Newcastle City Pro surfing championship in Newcastle, Australia, on March 28.

Magazines: Warp, a new surf, skateboard, snowboard magazine based in Oceanside, is due out anytime. Kevin Kinnear, its editorial director, promises a "fast, aggressive, irreverent format."

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