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X Marks Spot for Surfers

East beats West in first X Games contest, which draws praise from competitors.

August 10, 2003|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Surfing reached new elevations Saturday in Huntington Beach.

A remote-controlled, cable-suspended camera hovered above the surf line at the inaugural X Games competition. The Goodyear blimp tried to capture the scene as well.

Surfers were introduced with the same zeal as musicians at a rock concert, a scoreboard was mounted on the Huntington Beach Pier and more television cameras were in place than at the most recent NCAA Final Four men's college basketball tournament.

It was a new setup for a Huntington Beach surf contest, but then again, it was the first time the X Games had been invited to town.

ESPN, in its ninth year producing the X Games, brought in 16 of the world's best surfers for an East versus West showdown entitled "The Game." Two eight-man teams, consisting of six surfers from the East Coast, six from the West Coast and four international wild-card entrants, took turns competing in teams of four. When it ended 3 1/2 hours later, the East had secured a 209-188.2 victory.

The competition was separated into four 18-minute quarters, during which each side would take turns sending out a handpicked four-man team. The top two wave scores for each competitor were tabulated to determine the quarter scores, which were ultimately added to determine the final score. The game also included timeouts, commercial breaks and a halftime intermission.

Afterward, many of the competitors raved about the technologically savvy venue and the unique format.

"This whole format is really killer," said Shane Beschen, a member of the West team who splits his time between San Clemente and the North Shore of Oahu. "Usually, when we surf in four-man heats, we're not rooting for the other guy to rip on their waves."

Another West team member, Pat O'Connell of Laguna Beach, cherished the opportunity to surf with a teammate for the first time.

"The best thing in the whole world is to catch a good wave, the second best thing is to see your friend catch a great wave, and this event lets us do that in a game format," he said.

From a spectator point of view, the event was also unlike anything ever experienced at a surf contest. If a spectator missed a ride, no worry. A big screen was erected on the pier, where replays were broadcast seconds later.

Other first-time features for a Huntington Beach surf contest included the playing of the national anthem before the event, commercials read off on the loudspeaker and played on the big screen and announcers encouraging competitors to publicly heckle each other.

About the only accessory the event lacked was decent waves.

The knee to waist-high surf did little to bring out the best from competitors, although some did manage to elicit a few cheers from the crowd of 25,500, about one-third the size that watched the final of the U.S. Open of Surfing six days earlier.

The lulls in the surf seemed especially long when the West team was in the water.

The East had a 100.7-92.64 lead at halftime, but took advantage of some of the best waves of the event shortly afterward to stretch its lead to nearly 12 points entering the fourth quarter.

By the time the West team paddled out for its half of the fourth quarter, it was already facing a 64-point deficit.

"They all had to have their best waves in that last heat," said six-time world champion Kelly Slater of Florida. "Unfortunately, there weren't many waves."

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