Winner’s Circle

Former Cold Water Classic Champs on what it takes to win at The Lane

The 2008 Champ, Nat Young, will be a tough draw for any inexperienced Lane surfers should he make it through the trials. Photo: Kookson

With the Cold Water Classic added to the World Tour Schedule, we reached out to former event Champs to hear what they had to say about winning, losing, and what to expect from one of Northern California's weirdest surf towns.

Tom Curren, 1990 Champion:
“To win, you need a warm wetsuit and prior experience at the break. There are a lot of little subtleties about that wave. It seems straightforward, but there are different conditions--like tide and swell--that change quite dramatically throughout the course of the day. It's a fairly complex break. I started competing there way back in 1988 or so, and the worst experience I had there was one time the waves were pretty big, and I ended up getting caught by the west peak and losing because I couldn't get back to the lineup. Experience helps.”

Nat Young, 2008 Champion:
“You don't have to be a local to win, but the locals here have a big advantage. It's a different wave--there's backwash and different takeoff spots--and the guys that are from Santa Cruz definitely know which waves are going to be good. I don't really need to do much to prepare out there because I've been surfing there since I was 11 years old. I've won the Junior event twice and the 'QS once. But the year after I won the 'QS, I lost first heat [in 2009]. I remember walking home and I'm pretty sure I was crying. That was definitely a low point. This year, I'm back where I started when I was 13, in the local trials. Getting through is just going to mean surfing smart. Consistency is the main thing with winning any contest.”

Jordy Smith, 2007 Champion:
“The first heat I ever surfed there, I paddled for a wave and got pushed into the cliff by another surfer. It was super scary. Having good boards is the most important thing at The Lane, but you also need to know how to surf in cold water and while wearing booties. Any sort of help from the locals makes a big difference.”

Joel Parkinson, 2000 Champion:
“Steamer Lane is such a fun, high-performance wave that you really have to push your surfing to win. It's the kind of wave that suits traditional surfing as well as airs, and you need to mix it up a bit to get the judges' attention. The Lane has a habit of throwing up a bit of a wildcard, somebody no one expects, and I wouldn't be surprised if that happened again this year.”

Miguel Pupo, 2011 Champion:
“As everybody knows, Santa Cruz is a pretty sharky place. Knowing that, you get a weird feeling when you surf at the beachbreaks down the coast. To win in Santa Cruz, you need to be patient. There are many calls during the competition because of the tides and conditions. Oh, and buy a pair of booties, because in the last two years, the winners had them on!”

Roy Powers, 2001 Champion:
“Winning in Santa Cruz takes an extreme amount of luck. You've got to be in top shape because all of the elements are against you: The water is freezing, the weather can be bad, and you can ride a wave for pretty long and then you have to either paddle back out or run back along the point. When it's small, the waves break really close to the point and you have to be really aggressive with your positioning.”

Roy's weirdest Santa Cruz experience: “One year during the event, O'Neill rented a house that was extremely haunted. It was the early 2000s, but the house was still stuck in the '70s--it had never been remodeled and it had a real retro vibe. It just had this weird, eerie feeling inside and we felt like there was a ghost around, but because the house was so retro, we decided it was definitely a disco ghost. O'Neill never rented that place again.”

Bobby Martinez, 2005 Champion:
“The year I won the 4-star up there was by far my best surfing memory. If you don't get waves, you don't win. It's that plain and simple. 'Luck' is the single most important skill that a surfer could ever hope for.”

Nate Yeomans, 2009 Champion:
“Wave selection is 90 percent of winning at The Lane. You've got to be on the right waves that run across the reef and boost your ability to get a high score. I thought I was cursed the first four or five years I did the event; I lost first heat every time. I tried too hard, got bad waves and missed all the good ones. I thought there was some sort of voodoo against me. But I finally got my redemption in 2009.”

Nate's weirdest Santa Cruz experience: “I've always loved the town, the people, and the waves, but there are a lot of weird things up there. I didn't know that Red White And Blue beach was a naked beach, and I went there to surf with Adam Replogle. I came around a corner, just minding my own business, and I saw three naked dudes just hanging out. I didn't know whether to run away or turn around, but in the end I just kind of casually walked by and kept my eyes on the waves.”

Taylor Knox, 1993 Champion:
“The Lane is such a different type of wave from the rest of the Tour in a lot of ways: it has cold water, big tides, and kelp. The event was my first professional win, so I love the place. But it can torture you if it's small with thick kelp. To win, you have to be able to take off on vertical sections when you pop up. This year, I'm predicting that anyone with a good carve has a great chance at winning the event.”

Peter Mel, 1997 Champion:
“The guys who haven't come to The Lane before are going to be at an extreme disadvantage. Knowledge of the wave itself is critical. If Nat Young can get through the Trials, he's going to be one of the most lethal surfers in the event. Getting used to the cold is important too; you end up putting a lot of rubber on, and it affects what types of boards you ride. The year that I won, I was riding a board that I had shaped specifically for the Cold Water Classic. That board was magic and it helped me win the event. At that time, it was my first event win.”

Pete's weirdest Santa Cruz experience: “A bodyboarder paddled out during one of the heats and just started catching waves. I was yelling at him to beat it and he kept flipping me off. I was in my wetsuit, and I ended up jumping off the rock and swimming after him. I took it upon myself to go chase him out of the water.”

Kieran Horn, 2003 Champion:
“You really just have to get in sync with the wave there. With the World Title race being so close, it's likely that it will go to Hawaii, but whatever happens in Santa Cruz will have major implications.”