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You could see it in little Koa Smith's full, grab-rail power carve. It was clear in 10-year-old Kanoa Igarashi's man hacks and Keanu Asing's Sunny-like backhand attack. And, of course, it was unmistakable in Alex Smith's ultra-polished flow. What was so apparent at this year's Rip Curl GromSearch National Finals held at Salt Creek this past Saturday? One main thing: this isn't just a talent search anymore, pulling no-names out of obscurity. It's a battle to Bells amongst the best amateurs in the country. "It definitely started as a talent scout," says Rip Curl's Dylan Slater. "But the {{{incentives}}} are so good in these events now – the prizemoney and that ticket to surf in the International GromSearch finals during the Rip Curl Pro at Bells – that all the best surfers are turning out for these things."

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{{{Eight}}} GromSearch qualifiers ran this summer from the West Coast to the East Coast to Hawaii to Puerto Rico. And when the frenzy settled, around 100 kids received the golden ticket to compete this past weekend at Salt Creek. And, once again, the Creek delivered. Fun, punchy 2- to 4-foot peaks reeled off the point most of Saturday with only light winds. This allowed for plenty of opportunities for the nation's best and brightest to flare up in front of the ASP-hired judges and on the webcast. In between heats, they got massages from the masseuse on hand and built their cores on the army of "Fanning"-signature fitness balls on the beach. And then it got serious.

In the Girls 16/under final, Kauai's Malia Manuel won in the final minute. She only needed a 2.0 to win but waited until there was less than 30 seconds remaining. She ended up getting a 9 on the wave and easily took the win in the last few seconds. The Hawaiians crated her up the beach draped in the Hawaiian flag and she won the trip to Australia.

In the Boys 12/under, Kealamakai Naihe took the win. He and Koa Smith battled to the last second, though. Kealamakai got an 8 right at the end to deal the final blow. Koa got a chance to win in the final minutes and got a wave in which he did two sick turns and then did a grab rail forehand air and got a 6 when he needed a 7.5. Kind of crazy considering a 12 and under final had surfing of that caliber and it was still only enough to garner a 6.

On to the Boys 14/under: Koa Smith was in this final as well and just stayed in the water. After losing in the final minutes of the 12/under, he made sure he won this one. He pulled a ridiculous fins free lay back for a 9 and didn't look back once. Keanu Asing surfed flawless, but didn't get as many set waves as Koa, who was on every good wave the whole heat. Keanu came second.

And the big dogs: Boys 16/Under: Koa's brother Alex was in control the entire heat. In the first five minutes, he'd posted two 8.5s and comboed the whole field the whole heat. He left the rest of the guys out there doing varials and messing around hoping for a miracle. Never happened. Alex easily took the win, making it a big day for the two brothers. Alex actually flew in the night before, and was scheduled to fly back that day at 5 for his XCEL Pro heat. He definitely made the trip worth it and earned the slot to Australia in March.

2007 Rip Curl GromSearch National Final presented by Boost Mobile RESULTS:
Boys 16/u
1.Alex Smith-HI
2.Dylan Goodale-HI
3.Michael Dunphy-VA
4.Oliver Kurtz-FL

Girls 16/u
1.Malia Manuel-HI
2.Demi Boesterli-CA
3.Gabrielle Cope-HI
4.Nage Melamed-HI

Boys 14/u
1.Koa Smith-HI
2.Keanu Asing-HI
3.Ezekiel Lau-HI
4.Dale Timm-CA

Boys 12/u
1.Kealamakai Naihe
2.Koa Smith
3.Luke Hitchcock
4.Ian Gentil