2009 NSSA Nationals Day 4

Evan Geiselman’s perfect 10

Evan Geiselman dropped a ten. The wave was, so far, the highlight of the event. But that won't last. By now the field is carved down to the bone, the marrow, the skeleton of the very best in the NSSA. The final day is looming. There is no more room for dodgy judgment calls and waves not ended in any sort of combination of blow-tail, air reverse or power gouge. Or shouting matches and fist fights over questionable back paddling. There's too much focus now.

You may be thinking this all drips of over-hype. But, we're the media; over-hyping is our gig. It's all kind of true, though. Paddle-battles and handfuls of triangles are no novel thing at Nationals, just as parents loosing it and heightened rivalries aren't either. But something is different about all that stuff this year. On Finals Eve at Lowers, the beach is usually buzzing with the expected ensemble of wetsuited children and their slightly manic coaches, mentors and parents. All the sponsoring companies have their own version of diversion beneath their tents: Guitar Hero, foosball, poker and whatever else keeps kids occupied during the biggest contest of the NSSA season. This year, that stuff is kind of there, but it's kind of not. "It's the economy," someone told me. I wanted to punch them in the face. I would've rather heard it was because half of Hollywood died this week.

But maybe I should have punched myself in the face. Maybe it wasn't MJ and Farrah and that dude from Kill Bill after all, and it was the economy that was to blame for the eerie static creeping into everything. Then it made sense. All week we have been reporting that things are tense; fights are breaking out and unnecessary jockeying in the water is infecting both heats and free-surfs before and after the contest. The buzz around Lowers is regarding who cut-off who, who wants to beat so-and-so and on and on. To avoid all the hype, some groms like Kanoa Igarashi have resorted to disconnect, playing tag in the filthy dirt trail behind tent city because in these tough economic times, shiny new games got overlooked. Guitar Hero might as well be Tetris to this 11-year-old, who finds the iPhone to be a little too 2008 for his taste and instead gambled on a G-1, which he's enjoying but finds difficult to navigate at times. So savvy, that guy.

And while extra-curricular stimulation seems to be at an all-time low, competitiveness is as thick as it always has been. So, kids are taking it out in the water. Which is fun. Exciting, even. Maybe not to the parents or the judges they yell at, but for everyone else -- fun. Why? Well, first off because we don't have to report on who was owning the foosball table today. Secondly -- and mostly -- because we are left to remain focused on the water, anticipating the next flair-up, paddle battle and twist of fate to roll in from the south at approximately 3 feet at 14 seconds. It's good ol' fashioned, before-heats-on-demand competition. And it at least feels like the 13 titles on the line are worth it that much more.

It is only fitting then, that the wave of the event would come on Finals eve, when the rivalry is pumping the competitive juices through these kids like HGH through Manny Ramirez's veins. And even better than that, there is no longer any other medium to exercise the demons except the water. Don't bother bringing your gloves to Finals day, 'cause everyone's gonna have them off.