Surfing's young guns came from all over the world to Huntington Beach this week, and four of the best engaged in a shootout worthy of any World Championship Tour heat in the Junior Pro final Saturday.
Brazil's Paulo Moura, who is currently No. 5 in the World Qualifying Series rankings with a good chance of surfing in the big leagues next year, won the closely contested event by less than half a point over 15-year-old Hawaiian Dustin Quizon. Australian Joel Parkinson, who already has won a WCT event as a wild-card entry at Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa, was third, but less than a point behind Moura. Santa Barbara's Bobby Martinez, one of the mainland's hottest young surfers, was fourth.
A strong southwest wind and an inconsistent swell couldn't deter surfing's new wave from putting on an eye-opening show that included some of the best floaters and most radical smacks off the lip on display here this week as the best wave riders have gathered to show their stuff.
"I'm pretty stoked," said Moura, a 20-year-old from Recife in northern Brazil. "This is a big contest. I was pretty relaxed, but the last five minutes were hard because everyone was so close. Surfing against Bobby and Joel and Dustin, they are really good, so I didn't feel the pressure. I thought, 'If I win, great.' "
Midway through the heat, Moura paddled into a left that held up long enough for him to snap four cutbacks, sending huge sprays of water and earning a 6.50 that put him ahead to stay. The other three made charges that fell short in scores but not when it came to wowing the crowd lining the beach and pier.
"I need some more experience, but I think I can surf with anyone," said Moura, who finished fifth two weeks ago in a WQS event in Durban, South Africa, and had the same result at Trestles this spring. "I mean I know I can surf with the best in the world."
If they didn't already know it, by Saturday afternoon they were acutely aware.
OK, you heard it here first. Some of the waves at Huntington Beach early Saturday morning were too big.
A strong southwest swell pushed the waves to overhead at times, and the bigger waves were closing out--breaking all at one time--preventing long rides with multiple maneuvers.
"It's really fun and a lot more consistent," said Cory Lopez, the No. 3 surfer in the world who won his Round of 32 heat and advanced to this morning's quarterfinals. "It's pretty much all-time for Huntington because it's spread out enough that you don't have to hassle anyone and everybody can get some waves.
"But you really need to take the medium-sized waves because they offer you the chance to make three or four maneuvers and the bigger ones only allow you to make a couple."
When the newly formed World Professional Surfers group took control at the Assn. of Professional Surfers board meeting this week and voted to raise the prize money by nearly 100% in 2001, it took the chance of losing some sponsors and reducing the number of events on the schedule . . . which a lot of top pros wouldn't mind one bit.
The WCT schedule was rearranged to allow for a break--from late September to February--but it's not enough for a lot of the road-weary wave warriors.
"What the general public doesn't understand is that these guys travel nonstop," said Scott Daley, vice president of marketing for Redondo Beach-based Body Glove. "Every other pro athlete has some kind of off-season to be with their families and recover, both mentally and physically. And no other pro athletes travel these kinds of distances."
In a 10-week stretch between June and mid-August this year, pro surfers will have competed in Fiji, South Africa, Huntington Beach and France.
"The majority of surfers who retire don't retire because they're tired of contests," Daley said. "They retire because they're tired of traveling. As a sponsor, we hear it all the time. 'I'm burned out. I want to quit.' "
PAID BY THE WORD?
Announcers at a surf contest play an important role, informing the competitors of their up-to-date scores, exactly what they need to advance and who has wave priority to help them avoid interference penalties.
U.S. Open announcers Rick Fignetti, Jimmy Young and Mike Morgan provide a whole lot more.
The new powers that be within the ASP intend to renew efforts to have surfing included in the Olympics. Imagine an announcer at the Olympics calling out to buddies in the crowd or commenting on the swimsuit design of passing 15-year-olds or engaging in lengthy discussions on the differences in real estate prices between Hermosa Beach and Inglewood.
NO WORRIES, MATE
Before you start feeling sorry for Ian Cairns, who was pushed from his job as director of ASP North America by the WPS, consider that the job was nonpaying and pretty much thankless. Then consider the Laguna Beach resident's resiliency and never-say-die Aussie attitude.
"I've never been a victim of change and I won't be a victim of change this time," said Cairns, a vice president of events for Bluetorch who will continue to promote the Huntington Beach contests.
And, given his, uh, frugality, he won't be on the dole any time soon either.
Cairns was the money leader in 1976--the first year of the world pro tour--taking home a not-quite-Tiger-Woods-like $8,100.
"Hey, dude, in 1976, eight grand was like a million," Cairns said. "Anyway, I've still got $7,500 of it."