Make it a double for the guys out of Sweetwater Board Shop in Wrightsville, North Carolina, who emerged from the tag-team, double-whammy contest chaos Tuesday on the south side of Huntington Pier as back-to-back national champions.
Team Sweetwater returned as Mid-Atlantic champs for the 2011 Oakley Surf Shop Challenge National Championships, and at the horn it was their tactics and experience that banked them the title and the 10 grand.
The Oakley Surf Shop Challenge started with more than 70 teams competing regionally for a chance to represent their shop on the national stage at Huntington. Seven regional shop teams—Hansen's from the Southwest, Heritage Surf & Sport from the Northeast, Sunrise from the Southeast, Spyder Surf from the West, HIC from Hawaii, O'Neill Surf Shop from the Northwest, and Stillwater from the Mid-Atlantic—showed up Tuesday with sights set on the $10,000 prize purse and bragging rights as the top shop in America.
Grey skies and inconsistent surf did little to slow down the contest Tuesday, due mostly to four-man rotation tag-team format and the wildcard "whammy" rider strategy. Each team member was given a three-wave maximum and needed to post a score to contribute to their heat total—and for kicks, the designated "whammy" rider could call an immediate "whammy" after his best wave to double his score. They had 60 minutes to get all four in and out of the water.
The teams that found success did it with smart "whammy" management, taking advantage of doubled 6's and 7's rather than holding out for rogue higher scores.
The Semifinal 1 saw Dane Zaun reserve a spot for Spyder Surf in the finals with a whammied 7.0 air-reverse in Heat 1. In Semifinal 2, Sunrise's Asher Nolan whammied an 8.13 with three minutes remaining, after Sweetwater and HIC punched their tickets on a split peak—with North Carolina's Michael Powell earning a 7.17 going right and Hawaii's Joel Centeio a double-score 7.0 going left. With those four high whammied waves, Spyder, Sweetwater, Sunrise, and HIC made their way to the Finals.
But the finals were all Sweetwater, who looked the part as defending champs and jumped out early thanks to Ben Bourgeois' 4-hit backhand attack, good for a 7.8 that he'd whammy for double. It was Ben's first wave of the heat, and only his second of the day. Sweetwater knew that to win these contests, you had to be patient and take advantage of what the ocean offers.
"We just tried to not get too excited and go for such big scores," said Bourgeois.
"Instead of going for 8's and 9's, you kind of gotta just go for 6's and 7's. It was my first wave, so I was a little off, but it was a good wave. I would've liked to gone out and caught two more, but like I said, that was kind of our goal the whole time."
Sweetwater's patience paid out, in the form of a giant check for $10,000, plus an expense-paid trip to the 2011 SURFER Poll Awards in Hawaii, and a list of gear that will undoubtedly rack up excess baggage fees upon their triumphant return to North Carolina: a custom Futures fin quiver, a custom run of Bubble Gum wax, and a year supply of Muscle Milk.
All of the regional winners didn't go home empty-handed either, taking home custom Oakley team jackets, travel bags, and sunglasses, Buell wetsuits, custom New Era Hats, surfboards—all that, after being flown out for the event and pampered at the Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach.
But for Team Sweetwater, back-to-back bragging rights might be the biggest payoff of all. Tony Butler, the Sweetwater team's coach in Huntington and their boss in Wrightsville, was texting play-by-play back to the crew at the shop throughout the final. When asked what they'll do with the 10 large, all eyes turned to him.
Butler says a four-way split, but Bourgeois was sure to add that they'd be buying a few rounds first.