Five regional champs from across the nation--Heritage from the Northeast, Surf Ride from the Southwest, T & C from Hawaii, Freeline from the Northwest, and Sunrise from the Southeast--converged early Monday morning to be greeted by clean, overhead sets on the south side of Huntington Pier for the Oakley Surf Chop Challenge Championships Presented by Muscle Milk. And though two-time Surf Shop Challenge National Champs Surf Ride came ready to take their third consecutive victory, it was the 2006 champs, Sunrise Surf Shop from Jacksonville Beach, who would eventually take the title back to the East Coast.
Surf Ride no doubt put on an impressive show, and despite each member pulling their weight, it was young Gabe Garcia who put on the most noteworthy display of the morning. After completing a series of clean hacks on a long right-hander for a near-perfect score, he followed it up with another well-executed set-wave, which he finished it off with a perfectly timed air on the inside. "The two young ones are showing us old guys how it's done," laughed Surf Ride's Aaron Coyle, 25, about their team's 19-year-old pros, Gabe and Brent.
In the end though, it was not enough to oust the on-fire Sunrise Surf Shop team. "We came here two days early," says Sunrise's Dane Jefferys. "The two shop employees got off of school, got off of work. And these guys [pros Ryan Briggs and Asher Nolan] have surfed here a lot so they kind of guided us. We surfed here everyday before the contest. And it paid off."
Asher Nolan, the team's whammy-rider, eventually led Sunrise to victory, but he had his team biting their nails mid-way through. After lighting up his second wave with a series of critical back-hand hacks, he shocked onlookers by choosing not to claim the wave. Then, when his third wave left little opportunity for scoring potential, the possibility of a win lay in the outcome of his fourth and final wave. "I put a lot of pressure on myself by waiting for my last wave to whammy," recalled Nolan, "but luckily I came through with a good wave at the end and didn't fall." His final wave proved to be worth it--a 9.3, which he double-whammied for a whopping 18.6 points.
Santa Cruz's Freeline Design brought the family element to the event, with Peter Mel teaming up with his two sons, John Mel and Anthony Dunn, along with long-time shop employee and local pro Bud Freitas. At 9 years old, John Mel was the youngest surfer to compete in the event, and not only did he impress in surf that was--for him--nearly double-overhead, but he even out-scored his dad, who's been winning contests since before he was born.
Unfortunately for Heritage Surf Shop from Sea Isle City, New Jersey, their two pro team-members surfed an East Coast event until late-Sunday, and despite rushing to the airport, gridlocked traffic near JFK left them unable to make their flight and surf in the event. Shop owner Brian Heritage and employee John Barrie held it down for the team though, paddling out in their own personal expression-session of sorts, each surfing their four waves allotted to them and enjoying themselves nonetheless.
T & C was not to be forgotten, with Dustin Quizon, the team's whammy-rider, managing to get into a few of the biggest sets of the day, where he let his signature light, tail-free style loose. But although they certainly made a case for Hawaii, the team went home with a third-place finish.
Win or lose, the Oakley Surf Shop Challenge was an event unlike any other--filled with playful camaraderie, friendly heckling, and ample incentive ($10K) to really pull out all the stops.
When asked what they'd do with their winnings, Sunrise's replies were varied. "We're going out tonight in Huntington," said Nolan. "I'm going to pay my rent," said Briggs. "I'm going to pay for school so I can graduate college, " said Jefferys. "I think we should go on a team trip. Let's just go to Indo! We're all tight. We get along so well, every time this team gets together we just enjoy life," laughs Nolan.
Aside from the $10,000 cash prize, Sunrise went home with Samsung Glyde Verizon cell phones, a full-page ad in SURFER, and a year's worth of bragging rights.
Oakley Surf Shop Challenge Presented by Muscle Milk Final Results
1. Sunrise Surf Shop, Southeast Regional Champs
Ryan Briggs, Asher Nolan*, Garrett Carmichael, Dane Jefferys 61.2
2. SurfRide, Southwest Regional Champs
Brent Reilly*, Aaron Coyle, Gabe Garcia, Chris Abad 53.5
3. Town & Country, Hawaii Regional Champs
Travis Hashimoto, Gareth Sugihara, Dustin Cuizon *, Geoff Wong 47.6
4. Freeline Designs, Northwest Regional Champs
Anthony Dunn , Bud Freitas*, John Mel, Pete Mel 41.23
5. Heritage Surf Shop, Northeast Regional Champs
John Barry*, Brian Heritage 21.43