The young Californians are better surfers than their East Coast counterparts. They have to be, right? They have more covershots among them than high school yearbook pictures, pocket NSSA Nationals titles like free candy, and have a permanent seat in the celluloid corner.

But at a surf competition this past Saturday, San Clemente, CA’s, Gudauskas brothers — count ’em, one-two-three — were all erased before the quarterfinals. As a matter of fact, only one West Coaster punter, Venice Beach’s Justin Schwartz, could sneak past the Eastside’s defenses to make the four-man final. Shocker, right? Hardly.

If you plan on coming to Sebastian Inlet to surf a contest, you better have left all traces of laziness on the couch next to your Astroglide and Big Grab bag of Funyans. Because once anything dares raise a crest from First Peak to OK Signs, the kids here will chase it down and kill it quickly. After all, look who taught them how to hunt: Slater, Hobgoods, Hewitson, etc. And all the pointbreak practice from Rincon to San Miguel won’t help you connect the dots in Sebastian’s moody wedges, especially when they’re as elusive as they were for this year’s $10,000 Billabong Junior Pro. With a gutless leftover windswell deteriorating rapidly, organizers decided to hold the comp one day only, March 6th, instead of the allotted two day period, so pre-final heats had to be cut down to 15 minutes apiece.

After getting waxed by California visitors for two years running — Dane Johnson in 2001 and Che Stang in 2002 — the Right Coast was brought back into the picture last year thanks to Vero Beach, FL, dynamo Eric Taylor, who following the win was officially marked as the nation’s top junior. ET was clearly the favorite at the Inlet this day, as well, and it showed from the second he hit the water. Pegged as one of the most lethal guys you could ever get in a heat, ET was also throwing it down (or up, we should say) outside the competition area, busting huge alley-oops off wimpy crumblers. Returning from the Billabong World Junior Championships in North Narrabeen, Australia, along with fellow Inlet fixture Tommy O’Brien — the two lay waiting in the Round of 32 for fresh meat, along with other Sunshine Staters Eric Geiselman, Jeremy Johnston, Zander Morton, and Ryan Briggs.

Brevard locals like the flamboyant Nick Guilarte, the strategic David Awbrey, and the unpredictable Jones brothers were noticeably tough in earlier rounds. And Dylan Graves and Gaby Escudero managed to stay in the game long enough to make the Puerto Rican side look sharp. But as the tide came up and the waves lay down, only the two strongest bets, ET and Tommy, along with Gulf Coast speedster {{{Sterling}}} Spencer and sole west coast representative Justin Schwartz, were left to face off for the final. Sitting north of the rest, Spencer immediately got cooking — working smaller, longer rights to the sand. Schwartz fell continuously, but kept things interesting with a nearly pulled superman. But the real battle was between Taylor and O’Brien. While ET surfed flawlessly on his forehand and his backhand, Tommy’s working knowledge of the First Peak wedge paid off as he snagged two solid rights and put on an amazingly powerful display of edgework considering the waves’ lack of punch. He finished the heat with a frontside reverse and the roaring approval from fans, parents, and at least three dozen of his surly Melbourne Beach peers: “Yeah, Down South, whaaaa!?! . . . Gettin’ her done, Tom O’!”

The searing cutbacks and bulldog attitude are proof enough — the manchild is growing up. And that could spell serious trouble for future WQS contenders from the Golden State. Fresh off the World Junior Championships with an equal-ninth placing — higher than any other Mainland American — Tommy O’Brien may well be the best future prospect we got outside of Hawaii, and his mission is unsettlingly simple: “I want to be on the WCT by the time I’m 25.”

Lofty goals, yeah, but one thing’s for sure: Looking at what Central Florida’s been putting on the board as compared to what Southern California’s been churning out lately, he’s probably got a better chance than most. How can anybody argue against cold hard facts? Matt Pruett/ Eastern Surf Magazine


MENS 1. Tommy O’Brien, $2500
2. Eric Taylor, $1500
3. Sterling Spencer, $1100
4. Justin Schwartz, ${{{900}}}
5. Gaby Escudero, ${{{600}}}
5. Justin Jones, $600
7. Eric Geiselman, $400
7. Daryl Goodrum, $400

1. Christa Alves, $1000
2. Connie Arias, $500
3. Kira Sheppard, $250
4. Ashley Francis, ${{{100}}}