Kolohe Andino wins the 2009 Rip Curl Gromsearch and is headed to Bells
Words By Michael Barrus
It is 7:42am. The first heat of the Rip Curl GromSearch National Final is in the water. The surf at Salt Creek is beautiful. Four foot sets. Hollow, down-the-line waves. I remark to SURFING photo editor Peter Taras that I am impressed by the waves on offer. He declares it mediocre. I’ve been told that Peter Taras is a Salt Creek connoisseur. I suppose I don’t know any better -- wedging A-frames look perfectly acceptable to me.
Outside, fourteen year olds are blowing tail in a way that makes the term “blowing tail” obsolete. They are blowing board. Only the noses of their sleds are in contact with the water. This is not the type of first-round heat I am accustomed to. This is some serious next-level surfing starting off the morning.
But the groms are way more into the beanbag toss than the contest. It’s not yet eight and they’re going mad, diving into the sand, screaming like gulls descending on an unguarded sandwich. Someone has set up two goals. The groms are whipping the beanbags across the sand. They are frothing. They appear to be trying to hit each other. I am trying to remember the last time I saw Parko try to hit Mick with a beanbag before his heat. My memory fails me.
I’ve been told the Rip Curl Grom Search is a rather prestigious event. Prize money. Oversized checks. There is a well-designed contest tee and a live webcast. The competitor’s area is outfitted with couches, board racks, a flatscreen television. There are fifty something surfers in the event, invitation only. The respective winners of the Boys and Girls 16/U divisions will be sent to Bells Beach to compete in the GromSeach International Final. The kids are being groomed for a life beyond the NSSAs. They are being given a taste of professional surfing, whatever that is.
Jacob Halstead gets a 9.53 in round one of Boys 14/U. Deep forehand barrel to air revo. It is the highest single wave score as of 9:18am. Halstead is an outlier in his heat. He is a video pro who has found himself wearing a singlet. He surfs his heat like he’s auditioning for the next Modern Collective. Blow-tails. Fin ditches. There are cameras on the beach. He wins his heat. You have the feeling it was simply incidental. He walks past Pete Taras. Pete stops him. They talk. They set a time to shoot together. Halstead will go on to win the Boys 14/U final by nearly three points.
Kolohe Andino is surfing outside the contest zone. He is riding a squished-down quad. He does a backside mute. He surfs beautifully. By 12:47pm, Kolohe has surfed two heats. In them, he has pulled an air-revo, a slob grab, a shuvit. On the beach, the beanbag toss is still going strong.
A small blond girl does a series of cartwheels across the sand. I laugh to myself. Youthful innocence. She grabs the white singlet. Does Stephanie Gilmore do cartwheels before her heat?
Kolohe is the kind of cool only a fifteen year old can be. He rocks up to the SURFING tent with a fanny pack slung over his shoulder, electric kool-aid bananas dotting the fabric. He speaks to Travis, our editor in chief, with headphones in. He clearly doesn’t show any nerves. He clearly has the surfing world by the balls. I hear him described to an ignorant bystander as the next Kelly Slater. I hear his paycheck could feed the starving masses of Canada for a month. He continues to talk with Travis. They plot, heads bent together. Another boat trip? Another photo feature? A beanbag falls at Brother’s feet. He sweeps it up and dances away, whips it into a grom’s back, execution style. Grom goes down and Brother cackles wildly. “Screw you, Brother!” This blond kid throwing beanbags is the face of Billabong in California. This blond kid throwing beanbags is the future of surfing. He will go on to win Boys 16/U. He will be late to the awards presentation because he is too busy trying to get a girl to like him.
I then hear that Nage Melamed has eked out a win over Lakey Peterson. Nage is going to Bells.
Jake Davis has combo’ed the rest of the Boys 12/U final. He hacks into another reverse. He is holding a 16.67 heat total. Second place is somewhere around eight. Situations like this are usually referred to as decisive wins. He exits the water as the horn blows. His father and another man chair him up the beach. He allows himself to be carried for a bit before slipping to the ground, embarrassed. He jogs ahead of his younger brother to walk alone. The groms have tired of tossing beanbags; instead, they have begun to dig a cave beneath the competitor’s tent.
OFFICIAL RESULTS OF THE 2009 RIP CURL GROMSEARCH NATIONAL FINAL FUELED BY H20 OVERDRIVE
1. Kolohe Andino (CA)- $500
2. Nathan Carvalho (HI)- $100
3. Taylor Thorne (CA)
4. Koa Smith (HI)
1. Nage Melamed (HI)- $500
2. Lakey Peterson (CA)- $100
3. Chelsea Roett (Barbados)
4. Frankie Harrar (CA)
1. Jacob Halstead (CA)- $500
2. Colin Moran (CA)- $100
3. Koa Smith (HI)
4. Taylor Clark (CA)
1. Jacob Davis
2. Nic Hdez
3. Kanoa Igarashi
4. Colin Deveze
H20 Overdrive Maneuver of the Day: Kolohe Andino (CA)- $100 + Nintendo Wii
Mike Morgan Sportsmanship Award: Nathan Carvalho (HI)