HUNTINGTON BEACH — A year ago, Marty Thomas of Long Beach was thinking about giving up surfing.
Between 1988 and '92, he was ranked among the top 16 surfers in the world. But when his ranking dropped and he failed to make the World Qualifying Series tour, he faced the facts.
"Those were some bad years," Thomas said. "It seemed I couldn't win anything. At that point, I started to have some serious doubts about my surfing."
At 28, Thomas could feel the heat from younger surfers and for the first time, retirement was becoming an alternative.
In addition, some of Thomas' sponsors dangled job offers in front of him in the event he did retire.
Thomas was at a crossroads. But before he made the final decision, he wanted to get one more opinion.
"I talked to my good friend Jamie Mulligan, who is a professional golfer," he said. "Besides being a golfer, Jamie is a sports psychologist. He told me it was a mental game and encouraged me to stay in it one more year. He told me I could once again be a top surfer.
"I decided to give it another year," he said. "I figured if I can get back into this, I still have two good years in me."
With his renewed desire, Thomas entered the Bud Surf Tour, which started in Santa Cruz in late February.
"The year so far has been great," Thomas said. "The Bud Surf Tour has been really good for me and has allowed me to come back."
Coming into the AirTouch Pro Championships, Thomas ranks second on the Bud Surf Tour. He advanced Friday into the third round of the men's main event, taking second to Honolulu's Sunny Garcia, who is No. 3 in the world.
Because Thomas was not seeded, he will be trying to qualify for next week's U.S. Open. However, the big test comes today when he surfs against Hawaiians Garcia and Kalani Robb and Michael Rommelse of Australia.
"That is the challenge," Thomas said. "I know it's going to be tough, but I feel my surfing has been on and I feel good. And I know I'm motivated."
Ben Bourgeois of Wilmington, N.C., and Chris Ward of San Clemente, both 17, competed in the same heat, taking first and second.
Like Thomas, both are hungry for that wild-card berth.
"I don't want to think about it," Bourgeois said. "I'm going to take it heat by heat. But if I make it, I'll be so stoked."
Huntington Beach local Jeff Deffenbaugh had a great heat scoring a 26.67 to advance. Two-time world champion Damien Hardman of Australia advanced.
San Clemente's Shane Beschen, ranked second in the world, also had a good heat to advance.
Beschen will surf today in the third round in an all-Orange County heat, which includes Richie Collins of Costa Mesa, Jay Larson of Huntington Beach and Dino Andino of San Clemente.
Also doing well was Rick Massie of Venice; he scored the best ride of the day with a 9.67.
Massie, who is unranked and looks like a candidate for the wild-card berth, beat John Shimooka of Honolulu, Conan Hayes of Kailua-Kona and Gavin Beschen of San Clemente to advance.
Taylor Knox of Carlsbad and Laguna Beach's Jeff Booth failed to advance. Both will compete in the U.S. Open next week.
Sean Collins of the Surfline/WaveTrak in Huntington Beach said if conditions continue off Mexico, then it's likely there'll be some great surf for the men's and women's finals today and tomorrow.
"If conditions stay exactly the way they are now, then we're talking six-foot waves," Collins said.
In longboarding, top-seeded Joel Tudor of San Diego continued to dominate the field, advancing to the semifinals Friday. Other surfers who advanced were San Clemente's Geoff Moysa, Colin McPhillips and Israel Paskowitz. The semifinals and finals are today.
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AIRTOUCH PRO SURFING CHAMPIONSHIPS at Huntington Beach
Men's Main Event
(Top two advance)
HEAT 1--1. Nathan Webster (Sydney, Australia); 2. Eric Viscosi (Temecula); 3. Keith Malloy (Ventura); 4. Mike Parsons (San Clemente). HEAT 2--1. Ryan Simmons (Seal Beach); 3. Banning Capps (Carlsbad); 4. Greg Browning (El Segundo). HEAT 3--1. Kalani Robb (Kapolei, Hawaii); 2. Michael Rommelse (Avalon Beach); 3. Matt Coleman (La Costa); 4. Cordell Miller (Costa Mesa). HEAT 4--1. Sunny Garcia (Honolulu); 2. Marty Thomas (Long Beach); 3. Omar Etcheverry (Santa Cruz); 4. Tim Frisk (Leucadia). HEAT 5--1. Chris Brown (Santa Barbara); 2. Jason Bogle (Kailua, Hawaii); 3. Jeff Booth (Laguna Beach); 4. C.T. Taylor (Melbourne). HEAT 6--1. Kaipo Jaquias (Waipahu, Hawaii); 2. Carlos Cabrero (Santurce, P.R.); 3. Taylor Knox (Carlsbad); 4. Troy Eckert (Newport Beach).