They had three-time world champ Tom Curren, blazing Huntington Pier like he did in his Hydrolight days. They had Tim Curran, busting out perfect 10s and 180 air reverses in the final minutes. They even had up-and-comer Dane Reynolds, fresh off an incredible boat trip in Indo and ready to take on the world. But someway, somehow, Team Ventura County managed to lose to a talent-inferior team — Orange County — at the NSL’s Hurley Game Weekend at Huntington Beach. The second game of the weekend and Ventura’s first in the month-long battle for the California Cup, their eight-man rotation — along with coaches Sean Hayes, Mike Lamm and Bryan Aresco — quickly realized that a kick-ass squad on paper doesn’t guarantee a victory. “We’ve only had three practices,” admitted Coach Hayes, “those guys probably run these things every day. It’s a whole new system to get used to, and we’re still working out the kinks.”

Are they ever. In Ventura’s four quarters of surfing, they blew at least three “time out” calls, made a questionable substitution in the second half (rookie Nick Rozsa for Keith Malloy) and saw a number of their stars come unglued on critical waves. But despite all the mishaps and confusion, despite OC coach Mike Parsons’ spot-on management, the boys from the land of perfect pointbreaks found themselves gaining on OC — fast. In the dying minutes — after Timmy Curran, his brother Nathaniel and Tom Curren all did their part for a comeback win — the usually clutch Henry Mills just couldn’t put a score together. Final tally: 185.5 to 180.5. “Look how many mistakes we made, and look how close we came to taking those guys,” said Keith Malloy. “They live for these crappy conditions — wait til one of these things go down in real waves.”

Not that Huntington was so bad. Glassy, shoulder-high peaks poured through consistently during the first half (at least for the OC’s heats), offering plenty of potential for eight and nine-point rides. Especially for locals Timmy Reyes and Brett Simpson, who put in two MVP performances for the men in orange. Stack these guys up individually to heroes like Timmy and Tommy Curren and there’d be no contest. But every man counts in The Game, which makes a team only as good as its weakest score. Orange County knows the rules all too well, which makes ’em a bit more ruthless when one surfer’s slumping. Chris Drummy surely must’ve had some Little League flashbacks Saturday when Parsons replaced him mid-heat with Ryan Simmons. “I hit a fishing line! I swear!” said Drummy, taking a seat on the pine.

But instead of sulking or complaining to the media, Drummy was back on his feet next wave, hooting for Simmons and the rest of his crew. Which is the real reason why Team OC is going to be tough to beat at Huntington: after a solid year of workouts and practices, they come to the Game leaving their selfish surfing egos in the locker room. “We have good camaraderie, a lot of depth and we don’t make mistakes,” said an unblinking Pat O’Connell. “Sounds like a winning team to me.” — Evan SlaterRESULTS
1.Orange County 185.5
2.Ventura County 180.5