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Creme de la Foam

Surfing: An O.C.-based magazine brings back its awards and an A-list party. With it come reasons to celebrate for winners in the reader's poll--and anyone else invited.

August 13, 1996|DAVID REYES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Surfer Chris Cote doesn't dress or look like a guy who's arrived.

But last week Cote, 19, of Encinitas, received the green envelope inviting him to the Surfer magazine reader's poll awards banquet at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana.

"I was so stoked to get the invitation," said Cote, who, all week long, basked in the glory of it among his green-with-envy friends who didn't make the guest list. "All my friends wanted to know who my date was going to be, because a lot of girls wanted to go."

A who's who of the surfing industry was invited to the awards gala--and there was pent-up demand for it. The event hadn't been held in 10 years. Back then, the party had the hoopla, if not mystique, of Hollywood's Oscar night, sans Klieg lights and Billy Crystal.

That spirit was back in force Thursday night in the event timed to coincide with last weekend's U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach.

To get an invitation, you either had to be one of the world's best surfers, spend zillions in ad dollars with the San Clemente-based magazine, be a lucky hanger-on or know someone in the above categories. In the case of Cote (pronounced Co-TAY), he is on the top of the amateur heap and the current media darling, having just published in the October edition of Surfer a full-page story--with pictures--of his surfing trip to Japan ("Chris Cote Explores the Many Mysteries of Japan").

More than 400 guests were invited, including surf pioneers, surfers and executives from Quiksilver, Billabong and other firms in the beach-lifestyle industry. Another 100 people either begged or pushed their way through the front doors--despite heavy security--by saying they knew Mr. Big or were representing Mr. Big's company . . . all in the name of schmooze.

"One of the most important things there is to do for these surfers is to maintain a high profile; that's how they become known," said Mary Lou Drummy, a noted surfer from Capistrano Beach who helps run amateur surf contests. "Look at young surfers nowadays: They have to get their picture published in a magazine and get their name known, or how else can they find a sponsor?"

As a youngster, finding a sponsor and getting magazines interested in him was important for world champion Kelly Slater, 24. Slater is now surfing's golden boy, the only bona fide millionaire among top surfers. His story is simple: As a teenager, he was a Florida hunk who found happiness on a surfboard, was loved by surfing publications and became a world champion. He got noticed by Hollywood, became a regular on TV's "Baywatch" and is now trying to become a rock star.

"When I was a kid, the Surfer poll was everything," Slater said at the banquet. "I thought that was such an honorable thing to have in surfing."

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Slater was among a host of celebrities that included former champion Shaun Tomson, legendary big-wave rider Greg Noll, filmmaker Bud Browne, Rob Machado (No. 2 behind Slater in the Surfer poll), women's champion Lisa Andersen (No. 1 in the poll for women) and the elusive Tom Curren, four-time world champion.

Nick Carroll, editor of rival publication Surfing magazine, said a reader's poll is nothing more than picking a winner from those who have had their pictures published the most in a magazine.

"We've thought of doing a poll," Carroll said. "They have a place in surfing, but they're not as big as they were in the '60s because nowadays we've got the world championship tour, which really decides who is the best in the world."

However, Carroll added: "Hats off to Surfer--it's still a good reason to have a party."

One thing the awards banquet highlights is the link among competition surfers, corporate dollars and surfing publications. Those earning a living from the sport represent a minute percentage of surfers, yet publications focus only on the sport's elite, who are heavily sponsored, and not on the masses. (Surfer does publish a People Who Surf section, which features nonprofessionals.)

Ian Cairns, contest director for the U.S. Open of Surfing and the Bud Surf Tour, has been a fascinated eyewitness to this form of mutualism.

"If you're a young surfer, getting in a magazine is important," Cairns said, though he agreed with Carroll that today's world tour has taken the luster off a poll where readers select the No. 1 surfer.

"However, when a surfer makes the world tour, they're always away, so it becomes important for them to do a photo shoot for a magazine surfing in some faraway place. So magazines are very, very important in the promotional mix and part of our internal communication machinery."

For those such as Kris Brandon, 19, of Huntington Beach, who did not receive an invitation, it was a dose of hard reality. Brandon, in his own right a good surfer who was on the Fountain Valley High School surf team that finished third in the state last year, said he and any of his teammates would have been stoked to have gotten an invitation.

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