A wave of denim overalls and the aroma of barbeque chicken mixed with corn on the cob muddled any semblance of a surf contest at Newport Beach's famed 54th Street Jetty. Sure, there was action in the water, but the on-land antics proved equally entertaining. For instance, while Tom Curren narrowly fell in the semi-final of the Pro-Am Division (The Bootlegger Division), an oblivious crowd of groms fiercely debated which number the chickens clucking on a table behind the judges’ booth would crap on. Odds were on seven.
It was nine. A lucky tow-headed grom ran off with a bulging bag of free gear.
And that was pretty much par for the course at the 2009 VQS World Championships. Volcom's sixteen year-old "anti-contest" had grown into the irreverent beast it had always aspired to.
"It pretty much started right here at 54th street," said Volcom’s Troy Eckert. "I was there running those things probably 15, 16 years ago. Everyone would get together in a relaxed environment and surf some heats, and it just kind of naturally progressed. Fifteen years later, here we are blowing up at 54th street with a pretty legitimate contest series."
With a yearlong span of 76 events run both in the United States and internationally, to say the VQS has become "pretty legitimate," is an understatement. It has truly become an esteemed world championship of sorts, albeit with its original flare for rebellion.
"On one hand it's a serious contest," says Volcom CEO Richard Woolcoott, "Because kids want to win. but on the other hand kids are here having fun. There's a hillbilly in all of us. I think we all kind of gravitate toward that hillbilly part of being human, and I think people can relate to it. It's fun. You have to balance it out."
As shoulder high peaks trickled to shore, banjos buzzed through the air, and some of the world's best surfers smashed the ocean to bits, a delicate balance of competition and recreation played out.
In the Bootlegger Division's suspenseful final, Central California native Nate Tyler took top honors over defending VQS Champion Dustin Cuizon, Mitch Coleborn, and Blake Howard with an impressive array of hacks and aerials.
"I feel weird right now," said Tyler. "Because I never expected to win the Pro-Am Division. I've been doing the VQS series my whole life. This is the only contest series I do aside from local contests for the local surf shops. It is absolutely amazing. It's not feeling real to me right now."
Tanner Hendrickson claimed the Night Crawlers division as Malia Manuel was crowned queen of the Mountain Mommas.
"I'm so happy," said Manuel. "I didn't think I was going to win…I don't think I could have pulled off being a Bootlegger."
The Hawaiian domination continued as Torrey Meister claimed the Grasshopper Division and Ezekiel Lau rounded out the near sweep with victory in the Porch Baby Division.
When asked how he felt about being called a porch baby, Lau had this to say:
"It's hilarious. I don't even know where they come up with this stuff. It's Volcom."
Just then a screaming grom hurled muddy tighty whities onto a clothesline, scampering off with free schwag, and I couldn’t help but agree.
1. Nate Tyler
2. Mitch Coleborn
3. Dustin Cuizon
4. Blake Howard
1. Tanner Hendrickson
2. Albee Layer
3. Kyle Galtes
4. Jesse Mendes
1. Torrey Meister
2. Kilian Garland
3. Gavin Beschen
4. Mike Meola
1. Malia Manuel
2. Lauren Sweeney
3. Kaleigh Gilchrist
4. Demi Boelseri
1. Ezekiel Lau
2. Ian Crane
3. Ian Gentil
4. Kolohe Andino