The West Side of Santa Cruz just won't let up. As if Flea Virostko's three straight titles weren't enough, 20-year-old Anthony Tashnick kept it in the neighborhood Wednesday by winning the Maverick's contest in waves that people scrambling for their lives all day.
With sets in the 15-20-foot range, and the occasional 25-foot bomb, Tashnick fulfilled the potential he had displayed in Hawaii, Puerto Escondido and Northern California over the past several months. Four years ago, when Tashnick caught the biggest wave of the Maverick's winter at 16, some called it a fluke because his turns looked awkward and unpolished.
"It's no fluke now," said Brock Little, who won the day's first heat despite being out of the water for two months due to his stunt-man assignments in Hawaii. "I've been hearing about Tashnick, and now that I've seen him up close, I can see why people are saying he's the next in line behind Shane Dorian, Noah Johnson, those guys."
Flea had toyed with the idea of competing despite the severe leg injury he suffered on a horrific wipeout during the Eddie Aikau contest in December. "It was just too big to risk it," he said. "I wasn't into protecting my title unless I was 100 percent."
The West Side crew was decidedly weakened with Flea, Josh Loya and Shawn (Barney) Barron all out with injuries, and Kenny (Skindog) Collins didn't have his best day. That left it up to Tashnick, who set the tone in his first heat by riding three bombs, flawlessly, before the rest of the field could even get settled. The final might have been the day's most unspectacular heat, but after a slow start, Tashnick caught two set waves pull himself through and take home the $25,000 winner's check.
With the assignment of calling the contest 24 hours in advance, meet director Jeff Clark felt the pressure Tuesday night as south winds and heavy rains hit Half Moon Bay. When Wednesday dawned calm and clear, with 20-second intervals on the buoys, Clark knew it would be a day of vintage Maverick's.
A strong northwest wind made conditions difficult through the semifinals and finals, but astounding performances ruled the day. Shane Desmond, a 35-year-old Santa Cruz bartender who has been charging Maverick's for 10 years, pulled off one of the biggest successful backside rides in the history of paddle-in contests. It was a solid 50 feet on the face, Desmond calling it "the ride of my life" as it carried him through the first semifinal.
Greg Long, who has made a name for himself at Todos Santos, Cortes Bank and the Red Bull contests in South Africa, finished a strong second with two perfect-10 scores along the way. One of them, in the first round, was an almost surreal foray through an exploding section of whitewater that seemed to have buried him.
Carnage was everywhere. Grant Washburn and Troy Virostko (Flea's brother) wiped out on the same wave and were both pulled onto jet-ski sleds only a few yards from the inside rocks. San Francisco surfer Ryan Seelbach finished his first heat in a search of his board, which had drifted into the far lagoon, yet still managed to advance. Shawn Rhodes landed head-first on a scary free-fall, got drilled by the next wave, and was on his way to a hospital when he shook off the cobwebs and informed the driver he was OK. In the day's second heat, a 25-footer took everyone by surprise and cleaned up the entire heat.
"It wasn't a matter of how well you did," said Collins, "but how much you ate shit."
The day's true madman had to be Evan Slater, whose insane wipeouts of the 1994-95 season remain etched in the mind (and immortalized on video). Before the contest even strarted, Slater went down hard in a warmup session. He took a two-wave hold-down in the semifinals, his board "tombstoning" eerily for all to see, then got crushed on yet another wipeout in that same heat.
"It was great," said a smiling Slater at the after-party, hanging out with his wife and kids. "Great to be back."
It was a solid day for relative newcomers as Seelbach, Ryan Augustine, Long and Tyler Smith (an alternate who finished third) made big impressions. It was also a day for experience as Matt Ambrose, one of Maverick's best surfers since the early 90s, won the coveted Jay Moriarity Award for the spirit of surfing goodwill.
The West Side guys were primed for good news at the trophy ceremony. When the words "Southern California" made it official that Long had finished second, Flea and the boys went crazy as Tashnick, riding on his friends' shoulders, headed for the stage.
"This means a lot," said Tashnick. "It was a pretty heavy contest. Had a lot of my heroes out there with me. I felt fortunate just to be with 'em. Party in Santa Cruz on the West Side tonight!
There's a chance it will last for days.