2009 NSSA Nationals Day 3

Waiting Game: Conditions degrade at the 2009 NSSA Nationals as things start to get serious
By Rory Aaberg

Usually when Lowers is like this, local-boy Ian Crane prefers to drink
Cokes and watch MTV, but today he paddled out and won his heat.

Conner Coffin didn't surf before his heat. Didn't engage in a superstitious pre-heat ritual. Didn't even employ an elaborate competitive strategy. He just figured, "I'll try to catch a set wave." But why bother with that if you surf as good as he does? In his last Open Men's Round 1 heat of the day, he simply paddled out and reengaged the crowd's waning attention. A gargantuan snap and a water displacing tail-slide got the blood flowing again. But his dominance shown through more than anything. And some strategy. A set came in, after all, and he caught it. He bruised the wave with every inch of his rail, and was awarded a nine. Clearly, if he maintains such form, expect him to be clawing at the 2009 Open Men's crown.

This wasn't ideal Lowers. It wasn't the Lowers people mind-surf in traffic jams or ditch work to paddle out in. It was onshore, small and plagued by numbing lulls. But it was Lowers with four guys out and these young surfers took full advantage. Before the wind got too bad earlier in the morning, San Clemente local Ian Crane set the day's pace in his Open Juniors Round 2 heat. Tail blows. Off-the-lips. Critical reverses on end sections. He blazed on with two sevens.

Kolohe Andino had to watch the conditions flop before he could paddle out, but was ready when he hit the water. He waited patiently for the sets and fought for them like a gladiator. Imposing powerful carves, spontaneous reverses and smooth tail slides, his low center of gravity and strong technique evoked Knox-esque qualities, while his creativity and composure resembled Slater. Both of these legends have had tremendous success out here, and there is no reason why Kolohe will not follow in their footsteps.

Unfortunately, contests are not all about people ripping. Sometimes you have to wait for them to rip. The inconsistent south swell meant lots of time in heats void of action. Thank God for paddle battles. This phenomenon makes closeouts interesting and two-foot slop exciting. Monotonous heat 13 of Open Men's Round 1 finally spiced a string of wave-starved heats when Balaram Stack was burned on a left. He lifted up his arms in frustration and kicked away his board in a gesture that screamed anger and it felt good — to all of us. Winning the heat, though, must have dampened his annoyance as he downplayed the incident as only "bumping rails." Tanner Kehl rewarded the crowd's patience in his Open Men's Round 1 heat when he battled his way into a rare head high set wave, only to be met at the bottom by another competitor. His parent were outraged by the triangle promptly thrown at him, but at least he went down trying…and with a set wave for the day.

Day 3 of Nationals was another great day to be a grom. Empty Lowers. People all over the world watching them rip in high-def web cast. And Michael Jackson dying made the streets safer for children everywhere. Five minutes before the last heat, the free-surf pack swelled on the shoreline, mostly full of the miniature competitors that had been surfing the place virtually alone all day, and waited to hit the water again. This time, no time constraints. No jerseys. No stressing for a 3 while the ocean's offering up goose eggs. The opportunity to surf without pressure was a welcome change to the stress of competition, because tomorrow, it's gonna get more intense.