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At 21, surfer Reynolds refreshes his edge

Once weary of `beach breaks,' he is regaining his competitive desire the closer he gets to qualifying for the World Championship Tour.

July 23, 2007|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Life as a professional surfer smacked Dane Reynolds like a cold splash of water.

A couple of years ago, in his first full season on the World Qualifying Series, the teenage phenom from Ventura found himself traveling from one corner of the globe to another, usually with little or no break. The delayed flights, crowded planes and lost luggage might have been bearable if not for the consistently poor waves.

Even the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach offered a rude awakening.

"One of the worst stops on tour," Reynolds said of the competition that runs through Sunday alongside the pier.

After the U.S. Open in 2005, in what was supposed to be his second full year on the WQS, he walked away, setting aside his longtime dream of qualifying for the prestigious World Championship Tour.

Reynolds turned his attention to filmmaking and, for the next nine months, traveled the world at his own pace as he chronicled the hunt for big waves. The documentary, "First Chapter," debuted last July and won two distinguished surf industry awards.

The experience, however, further eroded his desire to resume a competitive career.

"When I came back, I was kind of ready to give up for good," said Reynolds, who will turn 22 in September.

But a few nudges from Quiksilver, his longtime sponsor and the producer of the documentary, persuaded Reynolds to take another shot at the WQS -- the only qualifying pipeline for those hoping to earn a spot on the WCT.

Second thoughts reappeared shortly after his return to competition.

"I wasn't having fun ..." Reynolds said. "I was speaking to people who were coming home from Indonesia and getting sick [as in great] waves, and I was groveling in beach breaks. It didn't make sense."

His attitude made a full cutback in late March at a six-star event at Margaret River in Australia. Reynolds knocked off WCT veteran Damien Hobgood in a quarterfinal before his run ended in a semifinal. Another top result came three weeks later, when he reached the quarterfinals at the six-star Quiksilver Pro Africa in Durban, South Africa.

At long last, his name began to move up the rankings.

"It all started to seem worthwhile," he said.

He's currently tied for ninth in the WQS standings heading into the U.S. Open. The top 15 at year's end qualify for the WCT, which is limited to 45 surfers and offers a lighter, more flexible schedule designed to take advantage of optimal conditions.

"I definitely need three more results, no matter what," Reynolds said. "One really big one and two OK ones."

The U.S. Open is one of 14 six-star rated events on the WQS this season. As one of the highest rated events, it also offers the most qualifying points. Reynolds said a high finish in Huntington Beach would classify as a "really big one." Many in the industry will be watching closely.

"The entire surfing world is holding our collective breath in anticipation of Dane making the tour," said Justin Cote, online editor for TransWorld SURF magazine. "He brings electricity and flair to a sometimes stagnant, same-guys-every-year tour."

Reynolds has been given a handful of wild-card entries into WCT events. His best finish was two years ago when he reached the fourth round of the Quiksilver Pro in France. His high-risk style can create exciting footage but doesn't always lend itself to success in 20-minute heats, where a wipeout can wipe out a much-needed wave score.

"Dane is better than 90% of the WCT surfers, but in the past hasn't been able to translate that superior talent into contest results," Cote said.

Reynolds said he has made a concerted effort this season to keep it simple in competition, even if he'd rather be daring.

"You can't exactly be launching airs," he said. "You have to connect the dots to the beach to get your score sometimes ... as embarrassing as it is."

dan.arritt@latimes.com

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