Grom Games

Griffin Colapinto, Seth Moniz, Josh Burke, Jake Marshall and Kanoa Igarashi missed the Olympics while in Nicaragua. Actually, no they didn’t.

Photos by Corey Wilson and Jimmicane


I follow the boys toward security. I follow the clues on the floor. And you will know them by the trail of grom. A candy bar wrapper, ear buds, a sock, a bag of cookies, four dimes, three nickels, two boarding passes: Kanoa Igarashi, LA to Houston, Houston to Managua. "Kanoa, you dropped your tickets." He laughs and stuffs them in his back pocket. Five more steps and they flutter to the ground again.

At the departure gate, Jake, Griffin and Kanoa have their shit strewn everywhere and are bouncing off the walls, living in that special place when you're just moments from an international surf trip. Jake's green little eyes are spinning in his head, his hair a blonde nest. He lifts up a duffel bag bigger than himself and says, "I got a ton of clothes to give away to the kids!" Kanoa's fresh off a 2nd in the US Open Juniors. He's checking Instagram, wearing a cap backward, Summer Teeth and skinny jeans. And Griffin's all doe eyes and dimples, fried ends and giraffe limbs and looks at me and says, with the utmost sincerity, "The food in Nicaragua — is it good? Like, do they have bacon?" Before I can answer he reaches into his bag and retrieves little wax paper packets of homemade cookies — surely Mom-prepared — and distributes them among the crew. We all take one and there's nothing embarrassing about it, because the best part about being a grom is that there's no such thing as being ironic.

All around us TV screens flash men in tights racing on tracks, women airborne and twirling over rubber mats, stadiums roaring for their nations. All around us, the passengers are entranced, their eyes glued to the games. The boys are oblivious and are throwing jelly beans into each other's mouths from across the hall. On the screen a man hurls a steel ball and grunts. Would we miss the 2012 Olympics while we were away?

Managua feels like a wet burlap sack pulled over our heads. Deplane. Customs. Collect bags. Curbside. We tell the groms to sit tight and pull the rental cars around front. When we return they're playing jump rope with a boardbag roof strap. En route to the coast, there's the normal Third World hang-ups. A roadblock for a Catholic saint's parade. Another roadblock for a protest on sugar prices (which could be confused for a dance-off and live music event, but a roadblock nonetheless). Griffin hops out of the car to pee and, forgetting that road rules in some countries don't always exist, is clipped by a motorcyclist speeding through the grassy shoulder lane. The accident looks more serious than it actually is and Griff is fine, but while walking back to the van, he is again nearly clipped, this time by a rickshaw driver. We don't quite make it to the beach that night, but find a hotel that welcomes tired eyes.

We adults collapse at the dinner table and above us, telenovelas, not Olympics, play on various screens. The kids are unfazed by the journey, tapping into their special ability to ignore fatigue when a foosball table's in the same room. We watch them play and giggle, high-five and heckle, and then present them with an idea.

"Grommets!" we holler. "We're gonna have our own little Olympics here — the Grom Games. What do you guys think?"

Without looking up from the foosball table, Kanoa says, "What's the winner get?"

"First place gets $100, second place gets a free dinner and third gets dessert."

They pause, look up and say, "When do we start?"

jake marshall
Jake Marshall

The following morning, the surf is pumping. A hot-water, heaving beachie, overhead and spitting both ways. The kids shake with anticipation. Ohhh — did you see that one?! Groans and screams. They slop sunscreen on each other's backs and dash before it sinks in, racing to the beach.

The footrace makes sense — groms run everywhere. If there's 10 feet in front of them they'll run it. The little hare that he is, Josh inches past Seth in the last of 40 yards for a bona fide photo finish. And the kids jump everywhere too. Just to fly. Just 'cause. In the long jump pit by the shoreline when the tide's too low, Seth soars for the win. And he backs it up later that afternoon in the swim race. While the five of them claw and kick the chlorine for a shot of the glory, it's Seth who's nearly a length ahead, victorious.

In the lineup, they're still racing. Every set-wave it's Dibbs! this, dibbs! that, Dibbs going right! Or Call it, next wave! Call it! You call it, you own it — it's common grom law. Seth is almost always the deepest, waiting on the bombs. He sits on the edge of a riptide where the most swell refracts and sucks square. He weaves his way through closeouts, exploding through the other end to the groans of his peers. "You gotta be shittin' me!" cries Griffin. But like Seth, Griffin's tube sense is beyond his years. Every drop he fades the other way, falling with the lip for maximum depth. Josh is hyperactive and paddles for anything on his flimsy 4'9" squash. He connects smooth finners with drawn-out wrap-arounds and cracks any remaining section till his fins hit the shore. Jake finds his own bombs and arcs his back beneath throating guillotines. He digs off the bottom, grab-rail carves in the pocket. Kanoa's game is refined and technical. He's got his air-revos down pat, with his hands on the rails in various places. They hoot each other into unmakeable closeouts and shout to the gods when their comrades emerge from the haze.

seth moniz
Seth Moniz

After the session, the boys invade the restaurant by the break. Dripping, giggling, sunburnt, sandy. They order: Five banana smoothies, three Fanta oranges, the rest of the muffins, pancakes (extra bacon), a couple of burgers with fries. Seth asks me, "Who's water bottle is that?"

"Mine," I reply.

"Ha, gimme 10!" Ruthless. You say "mine" — you owe 10 pushups. They've got me on my 200th one.

"Do you guys have any cho-co-late?" Griffin asks, enunciating clearly for the Spanish-speaking waitress. She rolls her eyes, yawns, reaches into the fridge and pulls out a box of assorted American candy bars and the situation is almost something too real for the boys. Griffin gasps. Josh's eyebrows hit the ceiling fan.

"How many are there?" Jake whispers. "And what's that divided by the five of us?"

Small, lifeless bodies float in the hotel pool. We're one and a half minutes into the breath-holding portion of the Grom Games and one by one they twitch and shake, hair dancing on the surface, until eventually each explodes into wide-eyed gasps. At minute 2:20, Griffin, runner-up, bursts from the water, "Heav-sauce," he pants. "Seth's still under?!"

Each evening some kind of mildly violent weather system rolls through and tonight is no exception. Or mild. There's a Cat-2 hurricane blowing by and the sky's flashing atomic and thunder cracks so hard my ears pop and everyone's gathered in the fancy, vacant, inside dining room since the dock bar is flooded. The kids are going apeshit. Barn animals in a storm, frenzied and restless. It could just be all the Fantas or maybe it's all that electricity in the air, but they are charged, exceptionally wild. A couple of them are standing up on their chairs, laughing and hollering. Jake's got his shirt off like a little savage and his eyes are spinning in his head again. Everyone's cackling and yelling and shrieking, howling at the moon. The sound echoes through the hall and the normally bored waiters and waitresses are looking at each other like, "Holy shit, these kids are feral." But the kids have been waiting on dinner for more than an hour and they got tired of being patient. Plus, Auntie Tammy (Seth's mom) is in her room for the night, so table manners went out the window a long time ago. The orange keeps coming, as do flashbacks from the Fanta-chug event, held shortly before dusk. A line of boys. Eyes water, throats burn, heads rush and Griff smokes the competition.

Still waiting on dinner, a couple of the kids are scratching their utensils on the ceramic plates like that scene in Ace Ventura. One of them is under the table, crawling around like a dog and pinching our toes. And it's around this time that associate photo editor Jimmy Wilson comes up with a brilliant new Grom Game: the silent contest. They last about 10 seconds before they crack at each other's farts and burps that roar through the empty dining room. The acoustics in the place are phenomenal. We hold our breath at the stench — déjà vu from the pool scene earlier. The food arrives and one grom exclaims, "Man, I haven't taken a dump in like four days." Fanta spurts from Josh's nose.

The groms leave just as they came: sun bleached, red-eyed, lip-cracked, hair fried, salty, cackling, drooling at the world and all its delicious gifts. In the van back to the airport they play "the name game," surfers only. Kelly Slater…Shaun Tomson…Taylor Knox…hmm, K's a hard one… They talk about traveling, about contests. They talk a little shit. "So Kanoa," says Griffin, "how psyched were you when Frankie Harrer beat your NSSA record?" A few of them are going to the East Coast in a few days. "Aww, I love Hatteras," says Jake. "Oh, did you get it good the last time you went?" I ask. "It was OK…but the place I stayed at had a PAC-MAN machine downstairs!" Somehow this explains everything. They talk girls — as much as 14-year-olds can. It's pretty unanimous that Alana Blanchard's still the crush queen. One of them talks about his first kiss, which happened a week earlier. The parents dropped them off and picked them up, the classic movie date. "But the thing was," he explains, "the movie was in 3-D, so when we go to kiss — we both have on those huge freakin' glasses!" The groms keep laughing, they stare out the window and watch Managua come into view beyond the sputtering buses passing horse-drawn wagons. They have that look in their eyes, that grom twinkle. Like somewhere out there an adventure awaits them. Or a game. Tomorrow, perhaps, or in a few hours — maybe even in the next 10 minutes. —Beau Flemister