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Making Waves at Lower Trestles

Surfing: About 200 competitors expected for inaugural Quiksilver Pro.

April 25, 2001|JOHN WEYLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Shea Lopez is in town to pick up some new surfboards between stops on the World Championship Tour, so he jumped at the chance to "surf Lowers with my friends."

Three-time world champion Tom Curren, in semi-retirement in Ventura, is relishing the opportunity to carve what most pros call the best performance wave in California with just three other guys in the water.

And junior WCT-star-in-waiting Fred Patacchia from Hawaii is eager to make his sponsors happy and show some of his best rips to the folks on the mainland.

The three are among the nearly 200 surfers in South Orange County for the inaugural Quiksilver Pro this week at Lower Trestles, just south of San Clemente.

The event, which began with qualifying rounds Tuesday and concludes with the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals Saturday, is the first of a resurrected six-stop Professional Surfing Tour of America.

It is only a one-star World Qualifying Series contest, meaning there won't be enough points available to help propel a surfer onto the WCT. But that doesn't mean almost everyone involved isn't hoping this is the start of something big.

Two months ago, no one had considered a Quiksilver Pro at Trestles, but when the only permit for a pro-am event at Trestles in 2001 became available, Bob McKnight, CEO of the Huntington Beach-based surfwear giant, pulled out all the stops to pull it off.

"We hope to get it up to a three- or four-star event eventually," he said.

The PSTA includes one four-star WQS contest--the Rip Curl Pro at 56th Street in Newport Beach Sept. 4-9--and a television contract with KCAL 9 and Outdoor Life Network, which means exposure and maybe one day a chance to earn big-time WQS points.

"My goal is to make the 'CT and that means I've got to travel all over the world to surf in the six-star events," said Quiksilver team rider Patacchia. "It's incredibly expensive and stressful and it wears on your health. It seems like we're in South Africa for the flu season and then in Europe for the flu season and then in Brazil for the flu season.

"Back when the Bud [Surf] Tour was going strong [in the late '80s through the mid '90s], guys like Shea could stay home and qualify."

Actually, Lopez, currently ranked No. 16 in the world after exiting in the third round of the WCT's first event at Bells Beach in Australia, says he used only two domestic-contest finishes among the top eight scores that earned him a spot on the WCT in 1995. But he says the fledgling PSTA could mean more than just fewer 12-hour plane flights for America's best young surfers.

"Most of the sponsors are located here, so it's a chance for a young guy to be seen and impress some people," said Lopez, who owns homes in San Clemente and Florida. "Then maybe you can get some sponsorship money so you can afford to go to some of those six-stars."

Alan Gibby, PSTA executive director and founder of San Clemente-based DynoComm Sports Television, revived the tour with hopes it would provide a platform for a new wave of mainland American surfers on the WCT.

"In a perfect scenario," he said, "we'll have a full slate of events that can be the handoff between amateur surfing in the U.S. and the world tour.

"Australia, Europe, Brazil, South Africa are all ahead of us, so it was time to kick it up. We have a way to go, but I think the evolution will take place."

And surely, there is no better place to start than Lower Trestles.

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