“I thought we were done,” said befuddled Dylan Graves as he changed back into his wetsuit. The young Puerto Rican, dressed in jeans, t-shirt and hooded sweatshirt on a warm summer day in HB, must’ve been as hot on land as he was in the water. He was ready to pack it in after finishing third in the Under-18 division at the 1st annual USA Championships. But then someone tapped him on the shoulder and told him he needed to surf three more heats — one today, one tomorrow and one on Sunday if he wanted to make the US Team. Graves gamely threw on a jersey and paddled back out.
Graves wasn’t the only confused surfer at the new event. California Cup veteran Nick Rozsa became the Under 18 champ after somehow finding an open faced ripple in the tiny, crumbly conditions at the pier, a wave he beat into submission for a 7.75. An hour later he thought he went from hero to zero when he finished third in his US Team trials heat. He knew there were two main functions of the USA Championships — one was to bring the stars of the ESA, NSSA, TGSA and HASA together for one single-day comp to crown a unified champ for each division, the other was to run a trials event to pick a new US Team, but no one had clued him to the rules. Rozsa thought he had killed it in the first part, and blew it in the second. He was spewing. “I don’t know how this thing works, it’s trippy,” said Rozsa. “I just sit here and wait to see if my name’s called for a heat.”
He later found out that he had two more heats to surf in the team trials. (All three of his heat scores will be added up on Sunday and if his scores are in the top six, out of only eight in his division, he will be on the team.) Because the USA Championship format was standard single elimination while the team trials format was round robin and because two heats were running simultaneously all day on the beach — confusion reigned. Making a weird situation even weirder, not all of the divisions were running both formats. The surfers in the Men’s division — won by the ultra smooth and consistent Ola Eleogram of Hawaii over NSSA golden boy Pat Gudauskas — didn't have to surf in the trials for the US Team. The top four non-Hawaiian Men in the USA Championships automatically made the team that will travel to Tahiti for the World Juniors in December. There were only four Mainlanders in the Men’s so all of them made it just by showing up. Gudauskas’ brother Tanner didn’t seem to mind that his big bro got a free pass onto the team while he was set to surf three days of heats in order to get his spot. Tanner dominated the final of the Under 16’s and was surfed well in his afternoon team trials heat. He also admitted to being mixed up by the mish mash of formats but seemed nonplussed by it all. “I was pretty confused this morning,” said Gudauskas. “But Kelly at Surfing America explained everything really well.”
In the end, the difficulties didn’t really seem to matter. The small crowd watched from the bleachers set up for tomorrow’s US Open kick off as America's brightest young hopefuls practiced for the coming days when the stands will be full and all eyes will be on them. Surfing America might not be perfect, but it looks like they’ve put together a team with the likes of Graves, Rozsa, the Gudauskases, along with Alex Gray, Karina Petroni and Jeremy Johnson and that’s a million times better than the one that bombed so badly in Ecuador in March. It’s pretty safe to say that the next time the new US Team hits the water in Tahiti they’ll be able to beat Switzerland. — Jamie TierneyFor complete results, go to www.surfingamerica.org