Rupp: dropping into his fourth ESA Easterns title.
When 2008 ESA Junior Men's Nick Rupp says he got lucky in this year's final, he speaks from experience. With a Menehune title and two Boys championships, Rupp knows Easterns better than any 15-year-old which is why, most Easterns, you'd say Nick was guaranteed to win just like South Carolina Team USA member and former Girls champ Keenan Lineback had a virtual lock on her Junior Women's crown. But then this wasn't most years.
With a tropical-storm-strength low squatting on North Carolina, Hatteras was a mess of howling north winds moving the contest site to Frisco for the two days of youth competition and cancel another, forcing organizers to reshuffle the format of the marquis divisions. Instead of the usual man-on-man double eliminations for the final 8 surfers, they opted for a four-man final for Juniors and six-man final for Boys, meaning you got once chance in the all too chancy conditions. In fact, Rupp reckons it one lined-up left that left him standing; just like one bomb frontside barrel stuffed favorites like SC's Cam Richards and Florida's Christian Miller behind underdog Boys Champ Keto Burns.
But Rupp understands fortune doesn't just favor the brave, it favors the prepared. And with a stocked contest schedule of Pro Juniors, NSSA contests, VQS events and sometimes two divisions of ESA comps, Rupp's got more practice and insight than most. We talked with Nick shortly after he got home to Ocean Isle Beach, NC to get his take on what worked this year at Hatteras — and what's working with youth contests in general.
SURFING: You did a bunch of events this year. Not just the usual ams and Pro Juniors, but the VQS and two ESA districts – Southern North Carolina and North Central Florida. Why?
NICK RUPP: Well, I really only did a couple of NCFLs last year, because I thought I'd miss Mid-Atlantic regionals — the dates conflicted with the VQS champs in Newport – but I ended up being able to make it through SNC. But, yeah, I've been on the grind. Now it looks like I'll have to do a different VQS district, because I missed Wilmington and got third in Kill Devil Hills, and I won't be able to make Maryland because it's scheduled at he same time as a Pro Junior.
Are there too many East Coast comps now?
Almost. There's almost like too many things to do. [laughs] But I'm gonna keep doing them all.
Well, it's about to get even more: the NSSA has a Mid-Atlantic Conference now. In the past, it seems having those scattered conferences almost helped make the district events feel like regional events. How do you think that will change the competitive make up?
I think more kids who couldn't make it down to Florida will do it. And it'll also take people out of the North Florida district because a lot of those kids were from Wrightsville and South Carolina. But maybe some of those Florida guys will come surf up here to see what it's like. I've already heard guys from up north like Balaram [Stack] might do a few, so that's cool.
You do the ESA, NSSA, Pro Junior. Is there one format that outshines the other? Or do they all offer something different?
I think they all offer different things. Nationals is an eye-opening experience because all the kids are so good. And the ESA is just really fun; you see everyone on the East Coast show up at one spot. It's a real friendly, camaraderie-like environment. And the waves can get really good. But I think the Junior Pro is the best practice; it offers four-man, twenty-minute heats, you have plenty of time to get waves, and you have computer scoring. I think that's probably the most fair with the best judging.
You bring up four-man heats. In the past, Easterns had man-on-man heats for the Boys and Juniors. This year, they made it four-man in Juniors. Which was better?
I thought tit was better as man-on-man because you had two chances. It's more fair. And it feels more like Easterns — that's the only contest I've surfed man-on-man. I think. I think they should've done four-man heats up until he an-on man, so it would be a bit of both.
The last couple of years, the guys who won Juniors also won Open – like Humphreys, Heilman, Rob Kelly. Did you feel like there was more competition this years? And where's it coming from? Florida? The Carolinas?
Yeah, I guess I messed up the whole Junior/Open champ thing. [laughs] I was definitely bummed. I'm not sure who all's surfing Juniors next year, but right now the best guys I see are Keto Burns out of Florida, Cam Richards out of South Carolina and little Stevie Simmons here in North Carolina — he's only 8, but he's good – so I think guys are getting good everywhere, really.
It's funny, you said Cam and Keto. With these longstanding events, you'll often see surfers picking up titles year after year like a conveyor belt — surfers like Keenan Lineback, yourself. I think most expected Cam was in line for Boys, but Keto won. Apparently, Kai Dillon, the All-Stars coach, even called him "the form surfer of the event."
Yeah, well that's the one thing you can never tell no matter how many contests you do: the surprises. And every once in a while they just come in and swipe one.
For more coverage of the ESA Easterns, look for the holiday issue of ESM out this November — and check the next edition for the definitive article on South Carolina surfing, from legends to young talents like Lineback and Richards.