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ORANGE COUNTY ON THE GO

Like His Best Rides, Curren's Career Just Keeps Going

Surfing: Santa Barbara veteran looks as good as he ever did while winning first-round heat.

July 29, 1999|ERIK HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tom Curren starts getting fidgety when the conversation turns to his mark on surfing. Even with a star on the Surfing Walk of Fame in Huntington Beach, he has trouble believing he's a surfing legend.

But here he is, at age 35, still competing and winning his first-round heat Wednesday at the Gotcha Pro in Huntington Beach.

"I don't know about [being an] influence," said Curren of Santa Barbara. "I thank people for saying that. But the kids coming up today, it's pretty scary. The technical stuff they're doing, all the aerials. I guess I'm from the classic style."

Curren is almost embarrassed to take any credit for his influence on surfing styles.

"Sometimes I feel old out there. . . . No, most of the time," Curren said jokingly. "But surfing is changing. There's more of a technical aspect to it. I can't do the stuff these kids are doing."

New kids aside, however, Curren was in top form Wednesday, finding some of his old magic to finish with a score of 21.00.

In his own style of surfing that has influenced competitors such as Kelly Slater, Curren carved his way on wave after wave, making the connections in a flowing style. Curren seemed to milk every wave for every possible maneuver, often finishing in the shore break.

San Clemente's Shane Beschen, who was in Curren's heat, was having difficulty pulling his patented aerials, and fell off his board a couple of times. As a result, Beschen finished third (15.30). Australian Michael Campbell, ranked sixth on the World Championship Tour, was second (17.90).

The winner of his three-man heat advances to the third round, which will be held Friday. The losers surf today in the second round.

Beschen, who just arrived from Indonesia, was asked if Curren's status mattered, or was he just another wetsuit out there? Beschen chuckled. "It's Tom Curren," he said. "I clapped when he paddled out."

Australian Mark Occhilupo, who many are hoping will surf against Curren this week, finished second in his heat and will surf today against Brazilian Neco Padaratz, who won the wild-card berth in last week's U.S. Open.

After his heat, Occhilupo watched Curren's heat.

"He looked great out there," Occhilupo said. "He doesn't look old to me. Then again, I don't feel old, either. I feel like a grom."

In the 1980s, Curren and Occhilupo competed in some of surfing's most memorable heats, especially at Huntington Beach.

World champion Kelly Slater, who's in semi-retirement but was brought in as a wild-card entry, could not get into a rhythm and finished third (12.50) in his heat.

Slater, who will be surfing against long-time friend Rob Machado today, admitted that he had lost some of his edge since getting off the tour.

"You get rusty when you're not in it," Slater said. "When you're not worried about ranking points, you don't get stressed. You're not as focused."

Notes

Brazil's Victor Ribas, who won Slater's heat (24.75), had the day's best individual wave score with a 9.50. . . . U.S. Open champion Shea Lopez of Dana Point won his first-round heat but younger brother Cory, who's ranked 25th on the tour, missed his. "It was just a case of Cory spacing out," said Al Hunt of the Assn. of Surfing Professionals. "He got mixed up with his brother's heat." Cory Lopez will have another chance today in the second round.

Sunny Garcia of Hawaii, also won his heat (20.50). On Sunday, Garcia was not sure he would be surfing this event because of an injury he suffered during the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open. "Well, to tell you the truth, my knee has been hurt so many times, I know before I see a doctor whether I can go on or not," Garcia said. "I feel pretty good now, although it hurts to surf on my right. So I have to rely more on my backhand."

Also advancing to the third round was Pat O'Connell of Laguna Niguel.

In the first round of the women's surfing, top-ranked Layne Beachley of Australia, who was not certain she would surf because of a knee injury, proved she was OK as she won her heat (15.50). Also winning first-round heats were: Megan Abubo of Hawaii, Serena Brooke and Melanie Redman, both of Australia.

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