2009 NSSA Nationals Day 1

Evan Thompson

The scene was just what you'd expect for the 2009 NSSA National Championships. Hundreds of kids scampering around left, right and everywhere in-between the company-sponsored pop-up tents and beach umbrellas. For the adults, the atmosphere always hovers between awkwardness and jealousy, since foosball games, tag, towing each other in wagons, never changing from wetsuits and endless free food and energy drink is just a little bit too Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. "I love getting to hang out with all my friends from around the country," mini-grom all-star Kanoa Igarashi admitted, before swinging a tree branch at a buddy's head. "That's probably my favorite thing about Nationals." Did we mention these kids rip, too?

There is the older generation of competitors, though, and they take the scene a bit more seriously. Santa Barbara's Conner Coffin chose to avoid most non-surf antics and keep focused to the water: "I'm definitely feeling a little pressure," he said. "Keanu Asing has been winning a lot lately and Brother [Kolohe Andino] has been killing it, too."

Coffin even wanted to talk a little strategy. "Lefts -- they have been better than the rights so far today," he said. "But the conditions have been changing heat-to-heat, so I've gotta stay on my toes." But, admittedly, young Conner would be pleased with any outcome this year, knowing that just being at Nationals is a huge achievement and a big step in moving toward a bright professional career.

Hawaii's Kiron Jabour was a little less lenient when talking competition. "I'm at a stage in my surfing where I'm graduating from the NSSA -- I really want to finish with a win."

Perhaps Kiron is the only truly honest kid running around the Nationals playground, because embedded in every game of tag, foosball and stick fight is the pursuit to become winner...and no one wants to loose a game of tag. Or a NSSA Nationals heat -- not even a 10-year-old grom. Young grasshoppers like Ian Gentil, Benji Brand, Kanoa Igarashi and Kalani David all channeled their onshore competitive prowess into the water and made it into the Open Boys semi finals, which will face off this Saturday. Kalani David was happy with his performance, which was a credit to his maturity...or all the extra-curricular competition on the beach. "It's cool to see all my friends, but I'm trying to stay pretty serious," he admitted.

As Day 1 wrapped up and parents began to gather up their wandering young ones, there was already an air of both victory and defeat drifting through the contest site. A clearly bummed Hawaiian mini-grom was bombarded by a group of feral children -- presumably his buddies -- and surrounded. The leader of the pack wrapped an arm around the deflated grom and explained: "We all lose sometimes, but after you lose," he said, "you gotta just play around." Though the leader was probably {{{80}}} pounds, shaggy-haired and filthy from playing in the dirt all day, his words were spoken like a true gentleman. The point of Nationals, he had quickly found out, was to not just win, but to have fun -- in and out of the water.

Benji Brand