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Riding A Microwave

Patience Pays Off for Dan Malloy on a Day When Surf Was Not So Swell and Brother Keith Faltered


HUNTINGTON BEACH — Professional surfing is not always about carving big turns and launching into aerials.

Sometimes the waves run inconsistent, without much shape. Sometimes the tide and wind conspire to whip the ocean into a chaotic mess.

On such days, the competition becomes a test of nerves. The surfers play a game of chess, jockeying for position, looking to pounce on anything decent that rolls through.

So it took all the patience that Dan Malloy could muster to survive the round of 64 at the U.S. Open of Surfing on Friday, when conditions were less than optimum.

The 20-year-old surfer from Ventura waited until the very end of his 20-minute heat before catching the third of three scoring waves he needed to advance.

"You've got to wait it out," Malloy said. "You can't panic and you can't fall."

His 24-year-old brother, Keith, did not fare as well.

Though Keith took nine waves during his heat, he could not find a quality ride among them and finished fourth, dropping out of the contest.

"It was just one of those heats when I took too many waves," he said. "Because of the conditions, I couldn't even tell the good ones from the bad ones."

Dan and Keith form two-thirds of a celebrity brotherhood. Along with Chris, the eldest at 26, they are a constant presence in surf movies and videos, in magazine spreads and advertisements.

Chris started it all by making his mark as a big-wave rider in Hawaii. That got his picture in surfing magazines and paved the way for he and his siblings to attract photo shoots and sponsorships at relatively young ages.

Most recently, the family was featured in an article in Surfer magazine. As Keith explained: "We've made our surfing professions out of everything but contests."

All that began to change three years ago when Keith won a contest in Peru and was bitten by the competitive bug. He set out on the World Qualifying Series, the minor leagues of pro surfing. Dan soon followed.

"With both Dan and Keith, the jury's out," said Ian Cairns, the U.S. Open's event director and a former surf star. "Are they going to knuckle down? Are they going to keep plugging away?"

After a couple of mediocre seasons, Keith has embarked on what might be the most important year of his career. Cairns believes it might be a make-or-break situation.

So far, with several strong outings under his belt, Keith ranks No. 4 in the WQS. But he must show consistency over the long run.

Dan, ranked 59th on the tour, is seen as a youngster who could turn out to be the best surfer in the family.

"He's really confident, really aggressive," Cairns said. "He shows a lot of maturity for his age."

But making it from the WQS to the World Championship Tour, the big league, requires more than talent and attitude. It requires stamina.

Surfers must deal with constant travel, the ups-and-downs of competition.

As Keith said: "You can go out and have a lousy heat and win. You can go out and have the best heat of your life and lose."

Conditions can change overnight, as became evident Friday. The surf that graced Huntington Beach all week suddenly turned erratic, keeping scores low all day.

Keith advanced through the morning heats, reaching the round of 64 and bolstering his ranking. But the afternoon waves, worsening by the minute, accentuated one of his weaknesses.

"It's definitely nerve-racking," he said. "I tend to get antsy and that never pays off."

Dan faced Hawaiian star Sunny Garcia in his afternoon heat but was determined to remain patient, even if it meant ending the heat with only two waves and no shot at moving on.

"It might have seemed sketchy," he said. "But it wouldn't have done any good to catch a low-scoring wave."

At the last minute, a small right came through, just big enough to allow for a combination of maneuvers. Just enough for Dan to finish second behind Garcia and advance to the round of 32 today.

"You have 20 minutes and you have only so many chances," he said. "You've just got to stay relaxed."

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