Though it’s still in its infancy, The Game is already being called the best show on waves, at least that’s what fans in Huntington Beach were saying this weekend after their home town team from Orange County, led by Chris Ward, Pat O’Connell and local boy Brett Simpson swept their in-state rivals from Santa Cruz, Ventura and San Diego to capture the first round of the California Cup.

The Game features a competitive format that’s a refreshing break for competitors and fans alike. Rather than compete against each other, surfers paddle out along with their own team members and assist each other in racking up an overall team score by giving each other waves when needed. With less jostling for position, and more sharing of waves, there’s better action than ever happening in the water, as surfers catch more waves.

Over the next few weeks, The Game format is being utilized all over the Golden State in an effort to find the team most deserving of the California Cup. Teams from Santa Cruz, Ventura, Orange and San Diego Counties will travel up and down the coast to compete in front of ESPN2 cameras and plenty of fans. Each team can dress up to 12 surfers per event, but only 8 of those are picked on game day, so team coaches have to be very selective with their lineup cards.

Each match-up is broken into four quarters that run similar to baseball innings. Team “A” sends out four surfers for 20 minutes, and when they come in Team “B” follows by trying to better their score. Team “A” then heads back out with the second half of their roster, and Team B follows to close the first half. That process repeats in the second half, so each surfer actually surfs twice. The entire match takes about 3-4 hours, but there are occasional time out periods, and substitutions as well.

The Game format was debuted last year during the X-Games in Huntington Beach to rave reviews, even though conditions were severely lacking. But this past weekend Huntington Beach was pumping, and the true potential of the Game was realized with some incredible fireworks.

On Friday, Orange County, led by Coach Mike Parsons, easily disposed of the team from Santa Cruz California, who looked a little out of sink in the Huntington beachbreak. But Saturday was a true showdown between Ventrua and the OC. Ventura’s team was stacked on paper, with names like Tom Curren, Tim Curran, Bobby Martinez and Dane Reynolds all dressed and ready to go. But Orange County charged, led by local boy Brett Simpson who scored 9.5s in both his first and second half heats. The OC team average per quarter was almost 48 points, meaning the average wave score they posted was a six point ride.

Down, but not out, Ventura County looked to stage a huge fourth quarter comeback with some high flying fireworks. Adam Virs, Dane Reynolds and Nathaniel Curran tried for some big aerial moves, but as each of them fell, the Orange County dugout cheered louder, tasting victory.

Then Timmy Curran found a left that offered a clean wall, and a perfect ramp. Curran smacked the lip once, then proceeded to his launch pad, where he took off into the stratosphere with perfect rotation. At his peak, he was a good six feet above water, spinning with perfect form in reverse. He disappeared for a moment on landing, and their was a brief second of doubt on whether he pulled it, but when he emerged cleanly with his hands above his head the fans, and both dugouts, jumped up to applaud him with a thunderous roar. Still, Curran’s perfect 10 wasn’t enough to overtake OC’s commanding lead of 185.5 points, as Ventura ended up with 180. The OC continued their streak on Sunday smashing San Diego by 30 points, and proving, for now, that they’re the team to beat.

The stop in Huntington Beach was the first in the quest for the California Cup, with future stops at Ventura’s C Street, Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz and Oceanside Pier, where each home team will defend their break. If the waves are good it’s nearly impossible not to enjoy the game, as it has many advantages over traditional contests. Most important, perhaps, is that it only takes a few hours to watch, instead of the whole day. That means fans don’t have to wait around for 6 hours to see their favorite surfer. The teamwork aspect makes it more exciting too, as competitors maximize the conditions by splitting peaks, and using up the entire break, giving fans more action to watch. Best of all though, is the heckling between dugouts, as cheering and jeering becomes contagious between teams and fans.

If surfing is in need of a new exciting competitive format, the potential here seems limitless. –Chris Mauro