Santa Cruz, California, August 31st--After months of meager surf, Steamer Lane came to life on Friday, providing contestants at the last stop of the 2012 Oakley Surf Shop Challenge Regional Championships with rippable, head-high surf. In a nail biting final, local favorite Pacific Wave clinching the title; along with four all expense paid trips to Bali, Indonesia, for the National Championships at Keramas on October 6th.
The Oakley Surf Shot Challenge provides a unique formula for team based competitive surfing. Invited surf shops, in this case ranging from Santa Barbara to Pacifica, are able to choose four surfers per team--two professional surf shop riders and two surf shop employees. These teams work together in a sixty minute, rotational tag-team showdown, with one rider acting as the predetermined "whammy" surfer, who has the option of raising their hands at the end of ride to double the total of that wave's score. With only a three-wave maximum allowed per surfer, this "whammy" surfer can make or break a team's chance at winning.
After surveying the fickle conditions Friday morning, contest director Darren Brilhart made the call to delay the start of the event until noon, with hopes that an incoming south swell would pick up. As the day wore on, his prediction came true and the contest was on. Eight teams from Central and Northern California entered the water for the two semifinals, and after the spray cleared, the stage was set for an epic final.
In what has become a kind of annual grudge match, O'Neill Surf Shop and Pacific Wave clashed again in the sixty minute Battle Royale, accompanied by The Beach House out of Santa Barbara, and Carmel's On the Beach. Defending champs from O'Neill started the heat with their whammy pick, local legend Jason "Ratboy" Collins, who, despite scoring a 6.0 on his opening ride, decided to wait it out in hopes of picking off a better wave. Unlike man-on-man surf contests, decisions like these are what make the Oakley Surf Shop Challenge unique, as each surfer must not only choose which waves to catch, but also at which point to call it quits and allow the rest of their team to build on their overall heat total.
Collins waited twenty minutes in the wave-starved final, before settling on a 5.63 score to whammy, leaving the door wide open for Pacific Wave's first pick, Kyle Buthman, to score a 5.5 and make his way in quickly.
"Because of the lulls I knew I had to get in and out quickly, and I figured coming in after my early mid-range score would be a good call," said Buthman.
Along with helpful performances from Miles Clanton and Willie Eagleton, lifelong Steamer Lane surfer Randy "The Kid" Bonds was able to seal the deal for Pacific Wave by whammying his first and only ride of the final, a blistering backside attack punctuated by a series of explosive off the lips coming in at an 8.3.
"It was tight, I had to," said Bonds of his decision to whammy his first ride. "There wasn't much time left and there was one more surfer to go, so I had to get what I had to get. I wish there was more waves, it just lulled out."
When asked about his excitement for the opportunity to shed the 4/3 and booties for some tropical perfection at Keramas, Bonds replied with a smile: "I can't wait to go to Keramas, it's a really good wave. I'm stoked we're all gonna get to go together."
Along with bragging rights, Pacific Wave team members received custom Oakley sunglasses and gear, 59 custom New Era Pacific Wave hats, a one-month supply of Muscle Milk, and a shop profile in an upcoming issue of SURFER.
Next stop is Bali, where Pacific Wave will duke it out with the six other regional qualifiers from across the Nation for the grand prize of $10,000, not to mention a chance to surf one of Bali's best waves with just three other surfers.--Neal Kearney