SURFING AMERICA CHAMPIONSHIPS: Eight days of big heats and bigger heats to come.

Last year's Boys 14 and Under Surfing America champion Riley Metcaf is standing under the judge's scaffolding waiting for a sign: a thumbs up, a frown, a wink of an eye or shake of a head–anything that might betray some clue as to how he fared in the final. And along with fellow contenders Evan Gieselman and Luke Davis, he's not the only one who'd like to know. Their heat came down to the wire, all three boys neck'n neck, when a large set rolled through in the last minute…"I know something you don't know," the announcer teases. "And everyone's just going to have to wait till the contest is over and we give out the awards to find out."

The scenario is nothing new. All surf contests are plagued with their unique moments of suspense. But if you think Surfing America's 8-day contest that pits NSSA, ESA, HASA, TGSA, and WSA, stars against one other is just about crowning another batch of US champions, then you've entirely missed the bigger picture.

"It's really no different from how Phil Jackson runs training camp for the Lakers," Surfing America coach and 1976 World Champion Peter Townend (PT) explained. "There's a bunch of talented prospects and I pick who's going to be on the team based on how the kids do in this contest and next week's contest at the US Open in Huntington."

For the surfers under 18 years old, then, this event isn't just about ripping hard and earning a prestigious championship. It's about making the cut. It's about showing that they have what it takes to be a part of Team USA and compete internationally for an ISA medal.

And during the four-man heat, 25-minute final ASP format, show they did.

At the North end of the Oceanside jetty, the waves were jacking up, breaking, rolling and then reforming on the inside sandbar offering contestants a diverse palate of close-outs, left/right switchbacks and sporadic walls to work with.

Two of last year's USA Surf Team members, Amy Nicholls and Courtney Conlogue, went head to head in the Girls Under 16 Final, with Nicholls narrowly taking the win by picking off one last wave before the heat ended. When the foghorn bleated, instead of going into shore, both girls turned back around and paddled out to compete for another 25 minutes in the Girls Under 18 Final, that followed immediately after. Rather than showing any signs of fatigue, 13 year old Conlogue posted a 9.0 within the first few minutes of her heat. She was in the zone; so much so, in fact, that when she took off on her next wave she didn't realize that she had dropped in on fellow USA team member Lexi Papilion.

"I didn't even know I had a 9.0" Conlogue told her mom afterwards. "I thought it was a 5.0."