Industry big wigs, media pundits, proud parents, wannabe agents and some model scouts gathered in San Clemente in late June for the NSSA National Championships, which has essentially become surfing’s own version of draft day.
Nationals is the marquis showcase for the hottest young rippers in the country, primarily because the long green walls of Lower Trestles offer a well-lit runway for competitors to strut their stuff. More importantly, it’s in the surfing industry’s backyard, and every major player makes a point to come down and scout out the world-class talent. However, apart from the performances that keen observers gauged was something more important: which surfers seem capable of handling some serious competitive adversity–an inevitable fact on any world tour. For onlookers, there was plenty of insight to be gained during the long lulls, paddle battles and interference calls that Lowers is famous for. “If a kid rips and that’s all, that’s really not enough,” says Brandy Faber, team manager for DVS. “You want to know how a kid can handle pressure. Being in front of this crowd and handling these conditions, it’s a lot to deal with. That’s why this event is good because if they can handle it here they might stand a chance handling life on the tour, or wherever else they’re headed.”
In past Nationals, high-profile draft picks like Andy and Bruce Irons, and C.J. and Damien Hobgood nabbed a lot of pre-event hype. But this year’s draft was void of any huge favorites. America’s current talent pool is still a shallow one that reaches across the country. The deep end of the pool is clearly in Hawaii: Dustin Cuizon, Kekoa Bacalso, Hank Gaskell,
Raymond Reichle, T.J. Barron, Kai Barger and Jon-Jon Florence head up the lethal Hawaiian squad. The Aloha spirit thrives among them. They stick together, in the water and out, and constantly remind each other of the invitees left behind because of lack of funds. The pride of representing Hawaii is evident with every smile.
However, the East Coasters aren’t too far behind in terms of numbers. From Gulf Coast stars like Sterling Spencer and New Smyrna’s Jeremy Johnston to Jersey boy Ryan Kimmel, they’re a diverse bunch capable of ripping in any kind of condition. Because battle conditions on the East Coast are so extreme, with tiny surf a daily reality, the proving grounds at Lowers were a walk in the park. Watching Johnston own the pack during his heats, it was obvious to many why the East Coast has five surfers in the ASP top 20.