Many of the world's top-ranked surfers are in Southern California to compete in the 6.0 Lowers Pro, today through Saturday at Lower Trestles in San Clemente.
But the high-stakes Assn. of Surfing Professionals World Qualifying Series contest also will provide a glimpse into the sport's future.
The contest roster includes a sizable contingent of next-generation athletes, among them Nat Young, a 17-year-old from Santa Cruz who last summer won the national amateur championship at Lower Trestles.
"I want to make it, but I don't feel that much pressure because I'm going against the world's best," said Young, who finished 17th last Saturday in a six-star WQS contest in Portugal.
The 6.0 Lowers Pro will debut as the first six-star PRIME contest in North America, replacing July's Hurley U.S. Open of Surfing (six stars, minus the Prime designation) as the ASP's top-rated qualifying contest in Southern California.
The Prime designation is new and the contests, which are scattered around the world, are worth more points. They're attractive to competitors from the ASP World Tour, who may require WQS points to re-qualify for next year's elite circuit.
They're also important to surfers from the intensely competitive WQS tour, which boasts hundreds of international athletes but at season's end places only its top 15 onto the World Tour roster.
The top U.S. athlete in the WQS standings is Brett Simpson of Huntington Beach. Simpson, 24, is ranked No. 4 and coming off a ninth-place finish in a six-star Prime event in Durban, South Africa.
"It's definitely a huge event since it's the first major event on home territory," Simpson said of this week's contest. "And with so many points flying around you have to capitalize on as many opportunities as possible."
Also campaigning for the 2010 World Tour is Pat Gudauskas, who was raised in San Clemente and practically grew up on the waves at Lower Trestles.
"I'd say I definitely have an advantage," said Gudauskas, 23, who is ranked 23rd on the WQS tour. "It's a pretty straightforward wave, so I'm expecting foreigners to still be surfing really good, but there are some little personality traits of Lowers that the locals have surely become familiar with and can capitalize on."
Held in conjunction with the 6.0 Lowers Pro will be the Oakley Pro Junior, an ASP Pro Junior Grade-2 event and part of the North America Pro Junior Series.
Finals for both contests are scheduled for Saturday beginning at 1 p.m. Surf at Trestles is supposed to average two to four feet all week.