Under 16 surface to air missile Kolohe Andino
Listening to USA Surf Team coach Joey Buran talk about his squad's chances next week in Ecuador, and you get the feeling that destiny is in the air. It's been more than five years now since Surfing America took over the reins as US amateur surfing's National Governing Body. They've centralized it, organized it and groomed some solid squads since then. But the gold medal continues to elude them as Australia has gone on to win four out of the last six ISA World Juniors.
We'd like to think that 2009 is different. We'd like to think that our "super generation" – consisting of Kolohe Andino, Evan Geiselman, Conner Coffin and the newly added Ian Crane – are finally of age enough to do some damage in the Under 16s. We'd like to think that Nat Young and Courtney Conlogue are ready to end their amateur careers on the highest note of all. And we'd like to think that Coach Joey Buran – always the man with the plan – has spent enough time with these kids now to really make a difference.
The entire USA Surf Team squad paid SURFING Magazine a visit yesterday as they prepared to take off for Ecuador and battle it out from March 28 to April 5 at a left point/beachbreak combo known as Playa de las FAE. The squad looked serious this time. Decked out in fresh PacSun sweats. Team bus. Handlers. If they were a few feet taller, you'd have thought they were one of the Elite 8 in the NCAA tournament. After taking their headshots, doing a group cheer and – at our request – belting out a version of "Proud to Be an American," Coach Joey gave us a realistic breakdown of their chances at surfing's closest thing to the Olympics.
"We have one superstar in our Under 18s in Nat Young. He's the franchise guy and I have high hopes for him. But we also have three real solid surfers who can put together strong results. Evan Thompson and Fisher Heverly are right there. Consistent performances from them should get them 5ths or 7ths. My X factor in the Under 18s is Chase Wilson. He's my Lamar Odom – he can either get a 20/20 or 0/3, you know what I mean? But the spot is conducive to his surfing. He's all rail, powerful and the ISA judges love that. I'm banking on Chase to surprise a lot of people."
"Last time, I thought we had the best Under 16s in the world. But we didn't – the Brazilians did. But now that Kolohe and Evan and Conner are really of age, I can honestly say that we do have the best Under 16s. These guys are vets, they've surfed in the World Juniors multiple times and they know what to do. It's like in basketball. They've been to the Western Conference finals a number of times now. That experience, knowing what to expect, can make the difference between copper and gold. We have one rookie in the Under 16s, and that's Ian Crane. I think he's going to do really well down there. He's automatic in his air reverses, and he was so consistent throughout the trials. Ian is on right now."
Girls Under 18
"Like Nat, Courtney is one of our franchise players. Since it's double elimination, I just don't see how she can get third twice before the final. I have full confidence she will make a strong run for individual gold. Her supporting cast is coming along strong as well. Lani Doherty recently beat Malia Manuel for her first time, which is good timing. Kind of a little reminder going into this World Juniors that they can beat anyone."
"Last time around, we had the ball, first and goal on the nine yard line. But then we got called for holding. Then we dropped a pass. Then we fumbled. Basically, everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and we ended up getting the copper. But I have a feeling that we're going to be able to create our own luck this time. If we do OK, we should medal. But if our guys rise to the occasion, if there's that defining moment sometime next week where you go, 'OK. This is destiny.' Then I'm confident that medal will be the right color."
The Quiksilver ISA World Juniors goes from March 28 to April 5 at Playa de las FAE in Ecuador. Stay tuned to surfingmagazine.com for daily updates.
The 2009 PacSun USA Surf Team competition squad:
BOYS UNDER 18
Alternate: Balaram Stack
BOYS UNDER 16
Alternate: Jacob Halstead and Colin Moran
GIRLS UNDER 18
Alternate: Taylor Pitz