For the past eight or so years, come the beginning of spring, I've casually made the trek from my apartment just outside of Diamond Head to Queens for the annual Town & Country Grom Contest. Needless to say, there are tougher assignments than hanging out at Queens on a perfect spring day, surrounded by an army of young surfers so stoked that even the slightest flicker of negativity is snuffed out by their happiness. It's something that I look forward to every year. The positive spirit that surrounds the event leaves me grinning for days.
As the brainchild of Town & Country founder Craig Sugihara, this contest was meant to be for the kids of Hawaii whose boards aren't spattered in stickers, who don't have managers, and who simply don't compete in surf contests. This event is for the silent mass of groms who will become teenagers, who will then become adults, who will then make up the rank and file of the surfing world. The unsponsored, nonprofessional Joes who surf because it makes them happy. You know, you…me…your best friend…the rest of us. The contest was meant to celebrate the act of surfing, not the act of winning. So you won your heat? Rad. You lost? All good, they just brought in pizza, let's eat and surf again. You get the vibe.
This year, there was plenty of swell washing through Queens, to the delight of the contestants and families on the beach. The weather was perfect (It's Waikiki in the spring. What'd you expect?). Throughout the day, the groms relished the waves on offer, played in the sand, and generally did what young kids are supposed to do at the beach: Have a blast. Local pros like Joel Centeio and Fred Patacchia brought their kids to the event. And yes, there were winners and losers in the contest, but who advanced and who didn't didn't seem to matter as much as who was having the most fun.
Sugihara once told me that hosting this event is the greatest thing he does, that this event is about supporting the bulk of us who won't go pro, but who love to surf simply because it makes us happy. Coming from the man who built one of Hawaii's most iconic brands, that's saying something. But one quick glance toward the throngs of smiling, tanned faces, bubbling over with laughter streaming through their braces, and I think he might be right. For now, ratings, points, and contracts can take a backseat. These kids just want to surf — for the fun of it.