“Zach just had a brain fart,” says San Diego Coach Jeff Baldwin as he watches one of his surfers blow a takeoff on an inside closeout. The SD team is desperately trying to capitalize on the OC’s uncharacteristically lackluster 3rd quarter performance and Zach Keenan’s blunder just cost their them last timeout. “What the hell was he thinking?” asks Baldwin. “He’s supposed to be the smart one.” In the opposing dugout, Head Coach Mike Parsons is all business as he watches his star chargers Chris Ward and Nate Yeomans struggle in the lumpy, 4- to 6-foot waves at Goldenwest St. in Huntington Beach. Parsons calmly speaks into his walkie-talkie, instructing his water coaches when to make substitutions and call time-outs. Throughout the first half, both teams seem to have trouble adapting to the tricky A-frames. The surfers begin turning their performance down a notch and, in basketball speak, they start settling for mid range-jumpers instead of attacking the rim. Progressive OC star Tim Reyes’ strategy becomes, in his own words, “to try not to fall,” and event announcers Brad Gerlach and Sal Masekela start razzing the competitors for “soft” and “conservative” surfing. Still, there are a few highlights — Dean Randazzo’s “110/{{{240}}}” –esque hand- jiving-high-speed-cornering and Che Stang’s outside bomb, which he dials into an 8.5, but overall there are way too many rails dug off the bottom and turns wobbled of the top. After three quarters, both teams are neck and neck in the scoring department. Parsons doesn’t seem worried that his deeper team can’t seem to pull away from SD. Come the fourth quarter, he’s got that feeling that his boys are going to come through in the clutch.

And they do. Tim Reyes, and the three Mikes –- Hoisington, Todd and Losness — finally make use of their homefield advantage and find a sweet spot in the wind-shredded, rip-torn lineup. Each surfer catches one bowly left after another and rips them to pieces. Hoisington grabs an overhead left and backs into a series of straight-up power hacks for an 8.25. Losness takes flight on a speedy foamer and backs the aerial up with a straight- up lip-hit for an 8.0. Todd and Reyes then go to work on a series of lined up lefts — Todd’s low-slung G-force snaps contrasting with Reyes’ ultra tight-arced free-flowing carves. By the end of the quarter the damage is done. Total score: 50.75. SD is in a deep hole.

Rob Machado and company try to dig their way out, but it’s a losing battle. The Mob can’t seem to find the racetracks that Reyes and company were lighting up and instead grabs frothy semi-closeouts. Jeremy Sherwin, though, finds himself in position for a wave to turn it all around. He drops in late, the low-tide drainer gurgling and hiccupping all around his thin frame. He does a solid mid-face snap as the wave starts to funnel, setting him up for the first tube of the day. Both benches wait on the edge of their seats, each knowing this a 10 in the making. But just as the curtain throws, Sherwin hits a piece of chop and goes down. The OC bench erupts in shadenfreude cheers and cackles. They’ve just clinched victory in the inaugural NSL California Cup.

Word on the beach after is that the Game is an unqualified success. OK, so the sponsorship deal with the mysterious So Cal Salt Co fell through and the dates were confusingly shuffled around, but who cares? Nearly all of the events were blessed with solid swell and the innovative format had competitors actually talking about heat strategy before each comp. After Team SC destroyed Ventura on Friday, Gerlach and crew then powered down the 101 and decided to stage the concluding event the next day in HB because many of the surfers were soon headed off to a WQS six-star in the Maldives. None of the competitors seemed to mind the last minute flip-flopping. Although the crowd on the beach was limited to mostly participants and friends, the atmosphere was much more charged and fun than your typically lethargic conventional contest. ESPN 2 again recorded the festivities, Jason Weatherley dressed up as the San Diego Chicken and the OC team dropped a bucket of ice on Mike Parsons head after the win. Knowing Snips, he’s already planning for a California Cup two-peat in ’05. — Jamie Tierney Goldenwest Event Awards Season Awards
Final Score: OC 177, SD 165.8
MVP: Mike Hoisington
Most Radical Manuever: Mike Losness
California Cup End of Season Awards:
MVP – Tim Reyes
Most Radical Maneuver – Tim Curran
9th Man Award – Ryan Simmons
Rookie of the Year – Brett Simpson
Assist of the Year – Jeremy Sherwin