By Stuart Cornuelle
Photos by Pete Taras
Saturday dawned the color of cement — sky, sand and ocean all the depressing shade of asphalt. Almost from daybreak, every tree branch and flag in Huntington Beach — including hundreds of American flags raised for the Fourth of July — were whipping taught from a sideshore south wind that turned The Pier into its stereotypical, maligned chest-high slop trough self. Uughhh, the beach grimaced en masse.
Surfers, families and NSSA admins all forced a smile at the crumby conditions. The 2010 Nationals’ move from Lower Trestles to Huntington was coming home to roost in painful fashion as beach-goers huddled — cold — in sweatshirts and jeans on the sand. In July. Practically nobody bothered surfing outside the contest zone, and it looked as though the nation’s premier amateur event would decide champions against a C-minus backdrop.
What a bit of sun can do. Around 10 a.m. the clouds parted, revealing a live California postcard as the Nationals moved into Explorer, High School and Open division finals. Janice Aragon breathed a sigh of relief and gratitude (note: speculation) while everyone else shed layers, grinned their good fortune, and turned full attention to the water for the conclusion of the year’s most important underage heats.
- K-Day (Kalani David), who was both the youngest surfer ever to make an Open Juniors final at Nationals (age 12) and the only surfer of any age to score a perfect 10 in this year’s event, had a clear shot at the title until Kona’s Keala Naihe took a righthand closeout, pumped once, and clicked a fast air reverse for a single-maneuver 8.5 and the last-second Open Juniors victory. Kalani was undone, and the score was perhaps high, but it was indicative of the judges’ increasingly progressive mentality.
- Segue to the airshow. With $800 to the winner for single best aerial, six NSSA qualifiers shot into the HB lineup mid-day to show off. First Zeke Lau — in trunks (fullsuits were common just hours earlier) — whipped a fast no-grab air reverse for a 7. Then Evan Geiselman, on a board he’d borrowed from his Hurley team manager and never even ridden (didn’t want to damage his own board before the Mens final), flew a backside air reverse two feet above a waste-high ramp. Evan netted an 8 and looked like a lock until California’s Sam Orozco launched a frontside superman and rode it out for a heat-high 9. Evan lost his board twice trying passion pops and never answered back. Good show!
- And then the tragedy. Nage Melamed, a Kauaian future star with a glowing smile, is today on a couch somewhere in Orange County, drowning sorrows in Cherry Garcia and a stack of sad movies (note: speculation). In the Open Womens final yesterday, Nage made a phenomenal error in the dying moments when she dropped in on opponent Catherine Clark unnecessarily. The interference dropped Nage to second place, allowing 2009 champion Lakey Peterson to repeat in the Open Womens.
- Speaking of Lakey, she sports a pair of golden arches on her surfboard down near the tail — a nod to sponsor McDonald’s, where Lakey can get Big Macs and McNuggets for free on demand. Her grandfather, the late Herb Peterson, invented the Egg McMuffin in 1972 and the family now owns six McDonald’s restaurants in California. Fortunately for Lakey and her arteries, she also rides for Nike 6.0 head-to-toe.
- The Open Mens final was anticlimactic, as few high scores came through for the four-man heat. Parker and Conner Coffin both claimed mid-range scores, and Conner’s 12.5 total looked like enough to claim the title until a semi-decent right popped up for Kaimana Jacquias to the north. Kaimana, already sitting on the final’s highest single wave score of an 8.25, needed only a 4 to steal victory. His 5.85 erupted the thick Hawaiian crowd, which chaired him up the beach draped in two Hawaiian flags (one for sovereignty, one post-imperial).
Perhaps most importantly, the 2010 NSSA Nationals demonstrated that it can thrive in Huntington. Indeed, waves notwithstanding, HB is arguably a more engaging venue than Trestles is (for contests) given its proximity to Main Street and its wide, sandy expanse. Not that the kids care — they’re either basking in their newfound glory and contract offers, or already back in the water training for next year.