Seven teams from across the nation converged in Huntington Beach this week for the Oakley Surf Shop Challenge National Finals and a chance at $10,000, a full-page ad in SURFER Magazine, an all-expenses-paid trip to the SURFER Poll Awards on Oahu in December, and most importantly, a year's worth of bragging rights.
This year's series began back in April with 67 four-person surf shops teams (each with two shop employees and two shop pros) from around the nation, all vying for seven regional championship slots. The cream that rose to the top and were offered a chance at the National title were Heritage from the Northeast, Hansen's from the Southwest, Sweetwater from the Mid-Atlantic, Jack's from the West Coast, T & C from Hawaii, Pacific Wave from the Northwest, and Sunrise from the Southeast.
After being whisked from the airport and put up at the beachfront Shoreline Hotel, the finalists converged on the south side of Huntington Pier early Tuesday morning to be greeted by 2- to 3-foot swell. A changing tide and onshore winds made for challenging Round One conditions, leaving only the most savvy competitors with a ticket to the Final round. Jack's, Hansen's, and Sweetwater joined 2009 Surf Shop Challenge National Champs, Sunrise Surf Shop from Jacksonville Beach, Florida, in the all-or-nothing finale.
Inconsistent surf forced strategic surfing for all and "whammy management" became a key ingredient to success. Many teams skipped over the opportunity to double good scores in the 5- to 6-point range in hopes of better numbers, only to be stuck with a mediocre score on their final wave. This lack of whammy support across the board put more pressure on the shop employees to produce solid marks.
While all the final teams put up an impressive fight, Team Sunrise, hungry to claim their second consecutive victory, took an early lead and held it throughout almost the entire Final, seemingly poised to claim their third National title. Meanwhile, Sweetwater whammy-rider, Michael Powell, was silently setting their push for victory in motion when he scored a heat high 11.86, leaving the championship in the hands of their final surfer, Sweetwater Shop Employee Ben Powell.
With less than a minute remaining, Powell managed to pick off a set wave that bump them into the leading slot, leaving Sunrise's Dane Jeffereys needing just a 2.03 to take the lead with seconds remaining. Already on his way to shore, Jeffereys took off on smaller inside wave, but wasn't able to do more than one solid turn. In the end, it wasn't enough and Team Sweetwater were awarded a giant check for $10,000, and an opportunity to head to Hawaii this winter for the 2010 Surfer Poll presented by Verizon & Samsung.
"All of us have the chills right now," commented Sweetwater's Tony Butler. "Our injured team members—Ross with a broken tibia and fibia and Mason with a torn medial collateral ligament and meniscus—became the cheerleaders. They were so nervous we thought they were going to throw up during the finals."
"It feels good," said Sweetwater whammy-rider Michael Powell, when asked about the team's complimentary trip to Hawaii for the Surfer Poll Awards. "That was an awesome added bonus that they announced the night at Oakley Headquarters before the final and I haven't been to Hawaii in years so I'm really looking forward to it."
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Oakley Surf Shop Challenge Final Results
1. Sweetwater Board Shop, Mid-Atlantic Regional Champs
Tony Butler**, Owen Moffett**, Michael Powell*, Ben Powell, Mason Barnes, Ross Stevens 24.72 Points
2. Sunrise Surf Shop, Southeast Regional Champs
Dane Jeffereys**, Garrett Carmichael**, Asher Nolan*, Ryan Briggs 22.7 Points
3. Jack's Surfboards, West Coast Regional Chapms
Bobby Okvist**, Clay Crandall**, Shaun Ward, Chris Waring* 20.7 Points
4. Hansen Surf Shop, Southwest Regional Champs
Ryan Burch**, Jessie Wells**, Austin Ware*, Jeremy Sherwin 20.13 Points
5. Town & Country Surf Shop, Hawaii Regional Champs
Travis Hashimoto**, Geoff Wong**, Dustin Cuizon*, Kalani David
6. Pacific Wave Surf Shop, Northwest Regional Champs
Andrew Bashaw**, Kyle Buthman**, Randy Bonds*, Willie Eagleton
7. Heritage Surf & Sport, Northeast Regional Champs
Jamie Moran**, Ian Bloch**, Andrew Gesler*, Zach Humphreys