VIA – SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL
Photo: Nat Young carves a huge cutback on his way to winning the 2008
O’Neill Coldwater Classic Santa Cruz to begin Wednesday
By Gretchen Wegrich – Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 10/23/2011 01:30:49 AM PDT
The O’Neill Coldwater Classic Santa Cruz is set to begin Wednesday morning in mid-size surf at Steamer Lane. The Northern California surf contest is known for producing bone-chilling water temperatures, unpredictable conditions and — sometimes — world-class waves. In past years, local surfers have used their familiarity with the break to their advantage, surfing into the finals and even taking the win.
At stake is the prestige of winning an event with a longstanding history, not to mention part of a $250,000 prize purse. And, it’s a chance for local surfers to showcase their abilities in front of their home town and the entire professional surf industry.
The contest opens Wednesday morning with the local trials. Here, eight local surfers will compete for two spots in the main event. At press time, the eight surfers had not been chosen. The 12 surfers requesting a spot in the trials include: Jason Collins, Bud Freitas, Jonny Craft, Zoltan Torkos, Nic Hdez, Austin Smith-Ford, Omar Etcheverry, Homer Henard, Josh Loya, Matt Myers, Noi Kaulukukui and Randy Bonds.
“The local trials are very competitive because all the surfers know the wave at Steamer Lane,” said Kieran Horn, USA Team Manager for O’Neill Wetsuits. “The most important thing in local trials is finding a wave that gives you a platform to perform. When you go against the locals, they know which waves those are. It’s more of a dogfight.”
Local surfers will face challenging conditions Wednesday morning. A 6.2-foot high tide at 9:56 a.m. may temporarily put the contest on hold, and trials may run as early as 7:30 a.m.
Unlike previous years, though, no junior contest will run in conjunction with Cold Water event. That means that surfers will not have to share the waves and accounts for the Wednesday start, a day later than in previous years.
“I’ve been out there every day for the last week,” said Smith-Ford, a local professional surfer hoping for a spot in the event. “The Coldwater Classic is the biggest contest we have locally. If you start doing good, the whole town comes and starts supporting you. The Lane is such a good arena. All your friends are so close, cheering you on from the cliffs.”
Because local trials were reduced from 16 to eight surfers this year, Smith-Ford said he expects the contest format will allow only the winning surfer of each of the two four-man heats to advance into the main event.
“What it’s going to take this year is just going huge in your first heat,” said Smith-Ford. “You kind of just have one chance, and you have to win.”
Photo: Local favorite Jason Collins grabs his head and screams in frustration… (Dan Coyro/Sentinel file)
The winners of the local trials will be joined in the main event by Santa Cruz’s Nat Young, 20, currently ranked No. 51 in the world. The Round of 96 heats will begin Wednesday after the trials.
“For the two locals and for Nat [Young], it’s an opportunity to show their skills against the best surfers in the world,” said Horn, who won the event in 2003. “The talent field this year is stronger than it’s been in 20 years.”
The event is drawing more than 20 of the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour’s 34 surfers, including O’Neill’s Jordy Smith, who won the Coldwater Classic Santa Cruz in 2007 and is currently ranked No. 6 in the world.
The World Tour is the highest level of competition in professional surfing. The final event in the three-part O’Neill Coldwater Classic series, the O’Neill Coldwater Classic Santa Cruz, is an ASP Prime event, putting it one notch below a World Tour event.
Two men in pursuit of the $50,000 prize that goes to the overall champion of the three-part series are Australians Adam Melling and Brent Dorrington. Melling won the first series event in New Zealand earlier this year and Dorrington won in Scotland. The series’ defending champion, Matt Wilkinson, 23, a Ripcurl team rider who is currently ranked 19th in the world, will also be in the water.
And that’s just some of the competition.
To advance into the finals, Young and the local trials winners will have to draw heavily on their local knowledge and years of experience. Young wore his first Coldwater Classic Santa Cruz contest jersey at age 13 and he later won the event in 2008 at age 17. He also won the Oakley Pro Junior title in 2007, when that contest was run in conjunction with the Coldwater.
“This contest probably means the most to me out of all the contests I do all year,” said Young, who finished third in the event last year. “To do good in this event, it’s going to take consistency. I’m going to need to be able to surf my best in every heat.”
But don’t discount the advantage of familiarity.
“The Lane is a hard wave to surf if you don’t surf it all the time,” Young said. “It’s definitely different. It’s bouncy and backwashy, and there’s a cliff. People aren’t used to that. For me, it’s what I surf every day.”
The waves are forecast to be about 2-3 feet, or waist high, on Wednesday and Thursday with a mix of south and south-southwest swells. On Friday, a west-northwest swell is forecast to produce waves in the 3- to 4-foot range before decreasing over the weekend. Conditions should be fair, with sunny skies and air temperatures reaching into the upper 70s.
If waves aren’t big enough, the contest could be moved to Waddell Creek, according to Horn, who added that there is a small chance of that happening. The event was last moved to Waddell Creek in 2005.
Gretchen Wegrich’s Stoked & Broke surf column appears every other Sunday in Sports. Contact her at email@example.com.
IF YOU GO
O’Neill Coldwater Classic Santa Cruz
WHAT: The final event in the three-part Coldwater contest series. The Association of Surfing…
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