“Summer was gone and the heat died down/ and Autumn reached for her golden crown.”
Okay, so the late English folkie Nick Drake might not have been the best soundtrack for a contest in shred-happy OC, but there was a refreshing change in the air at the 16th annual OP Newport Classic. It wasn’t like there were leaves falling off trees or a brisk offshore wind fanning the waves, but after a long, hot and endlessly waveless summer, something had to give. The Newport OP is known for producing solid waves and this year did not disappoint. 3-5 foot glassy southwest lines mixed with a bit of windswell to serve up ramps and bowls aplenty. The beach itself seemed to celebrate to end of the blackball, the parking nightmares, the Catalina Eddy devil winds and the sandbars – groomed by swell after September swell – we’re ready for action.
Sunday’s surf wasn’t quite as solid as it’s been over the last few weeks, but fun chest to head high waves were on tap all day and a diverse group of characters including Superbank local Jarrah Tutton and twin MD’s Bryan and Kent Doonan all made the final rounds. In the amateur Elementary school division Kolohe “Brother” Andino threw down vertical, tail drifting backside snaps that raised a few eyebrows among the pros in attendance. He ripped so hard he tore a hole in his forehead and had to go directly to Hoag hospital for stitches. He was last seen walking away with his 1st place trophy - a beefy new MR style twin fin that he could barely get his 11-year-old arm around - with blood dripping onto the sand.
In the Airshow, Newps local Josh Hoyer took the win with a solid football Sunday punt on a walled up right. While Josh Sleigh did an air so technical that no one had a name for it. In the women’s pro division, young Erica Hosseini won with lanky, flowing snaps over TV star Holly Beck, whose similar style was a likely influence on Hosseini.
The Pro men’s final, held in deteriorating, low-tide dumpers, was a controversial affair. Both Ryan Simmons and Heath Walker came into the beach thinking they had done enough to win. Simmons — the first surfer to do difficult double duty as both announcer and competitor in a contest — claimed a racy left shortly before the end of the heat and thought he had things sealed up. “Everyone sees something different, ” said Simmons, “but I thought I should have won.”
On the other hand, ‘QS vet Walker figured his tight, punchy backside snaps — turns that were at least 50 percent more powerful than any of the five other finalists — won him the heat. But San Diego dark horse Nick Kovack, a loose, progressive regularfoot, got the two grand first prize instead. Kovack said he was, “Super shocked,” by his victory — the first of his pro career. His win was especially unlikely considering that this contest was the first he’d entered in the US this year.
The consensus on the beach, though, was that Walker should have prevailed. “Heath got robbed,” said Kent Doonan. After the awards the Carlsbad transplant Aussie battler was frustrated because he said he makes finals easily here, but often finds himself taking thirds. “I was really hungry for the win this time,” said Walker.
Maybe next time. - Jamie Tierney