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Jim Hogan Says Deck Stacked Against U.S. Amateur Teams

August 12, 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

With his wife expecting their first baby in another month, you would think that San Clemente pro surfer Jim Hogan would be in a mellow mood. But he isn't.

Hogan has just returned from three weeks of competition in Tahiti and Bali with an all-star amateur team of U.S. surfers that went up against the Australians and lost--again.

It seems the Aussies have been beating U.S. amateur teams for nearly a decade.

Hogan says the reason for the losses is, in part, the way U.S. team members are selected by the United States Surfing Federation (USSF), which governs amateur surfing in this country. Hogan, who coaches the National Scholastic Surfing Assn. (NSSA) U.S. team, hints that politics and favoritism are at work here, which is nothing new in amateur sports.

"As a coach," Hogan said, "I've always told myself I would not let the best surfer or surfers sit on the bench. But at a recent meeting I stuck my neck out and told people from the USSF to put up or shut up. I challenged their U.S. team to our NSSA team. They backed down."

"We didn't back down," said Tom Walsh, the USSF contest director. "Tell you what: Have (Hogan) bring $1,000 to pay for the judges. If we lose, I pay the judges. If they lose, he pays them. And tell him no checks. Cash."

Walsh called Hogan's challenge "bogus," saying that top surfers from the West Coast have made both teams. The overlap would cancel such a contest.

"Hogan's just misinformed," Walsh added.

The NSSA team, consisting of student-age surfers, is selected on a contest/rating system but was described by Walsh as "an all-star" team and not this country's creme de la creme. Because Southern California has the most high schools with NSSA teams, its national team is usually dominated by West Coast surfers who have grown up surfing bigger waves than those from Texas or Florida.

To understand Hogan's comment, you need to see how Hogan selected the Tahiti/Bali team. He held trials-- unheard of for what's essentially a pick-up team. But Hogan wanted the best surfers based on their wave performance.

Hogan argued that U.S. amateur surf teams would do better in international competition if they were organized the way they are in Australia. There, competitions are governed at the local and national level by the same organization, the Australian Surfing Assn. Surfers must travel up a competitive ladder from local to regional, state and then national contests. The top surfer in each age group gets on the team.

The Aussies always say, "Whenever you surf against our national team, it's the best we have."

Hogan says that being coached by P.T. Townend, a former world champion, has influenced him. "You don't pick a team on paper and then say, 'OK. That's who you're going to use.' You select based on performance on that day for that contest."

He's got a point , said Rockin' Fig . The Aussies field a good team because they pick their best guys. And what does Fig think about this?

Hey, I'm just a neutral character you know. But it kind of sounds like w e've got the U.S. amateur championships going on and this controversy too.

So why isn't this being done?

People associated with amateur surfing point to the current system in use by the USSF. They criticized the USSF's regional, which was held in Port Aransas, Tex., on the Gulf Coast, and in Florida, as venues for much smaller surf. In addition, USSF surfers must have good showings at three trials at different areas of the country, which can economically devastate a surfer and his or her family.

Hogan said that when you give a surfer a high rating for surfing in one-foot mush, then force people to use that surfer for USSF-sanctioned events, it doesn't put the best surfer in the water.

But Walsh said holding USSF events only in California would be unfair for surfers on the Gulf and East coasts. As for wave size, he said that Port Aransas in 1991 had five-foot surf.

What angered Hogan was a letter sent to him five days before he left for Tahiti. It was an ultimatum by the USSF ordering Hogan to put several surfers from a list they sent him on the team regardless of their showing at Hogan's trials because they were rated surfers from the USSF's system.

Hogan refused, which put him in the middle of a controversy.

Figgy says Hogan has a bit of the rebel in him.

And he's a competitor , Figgy adds .

Janice Aragon, the NSSA's executive director in Huntington Beach, said she's a supporter of putting the best in the water, as Hogan suggests.

"We probably both got that belief from being coached under P. T.," Aragon said. Ironically, in 1984, she was the last U.S. woman to take a world amateur title.

As for a USSF-NSSA surf-off, Aragon said she's up for it.

"We're not afraid to go up against anybody."

Another spin is that the world amateur championships are scheduled for Brazil in the spring. Brazil's surf is big and powerful. Going from one-foot gulf waves into Brazilian barrels is a critical leap, although Walsh adds: "Brazil can also be mushy. You never know."

Hogan says he is a reluctant critic.

"I was surfing with Tom Carroll and Rabbit Bartholemew," two well-known Australians, "and I told them both I didn't want to stick my neck out. But they said, 'If you don't, who will?' "

TREE BAG: Dan Weikel, a Times reporter and surfer, was anxiously telephoning friends to borrow a board bag. Weikel and yours truly are headed for Costa Rica real soon. It seems a friend headed for Europe wanted to ship a California tree there. It was a scrawny six-foot tree. He saw Dan's empty board bag, asked to borrow it for the tree, and Dan hasn't seen the bag, tree or friend since.

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