Despite slashing his way through the Local Trials, Tyler Smith unfortunately couldn't make it out of his first heat in the Main Event
This year, the O’Neill Coldwater Classic has been elevated to 6* Prime status, meaning an increased purse, more crucial World Qualifying Series points, and an all star cast of big league professional surfers looking to improve their standings and win some cold hard cash. In the past, when the contest was rated lower, there were more slots open for local surfers to compete in the Main Event. Now, not only is tougher for local WQS competitors to attain a seeded spot into the event, there are only two spots available into the round of 128, awarded to the first and second place finishers of the Local Trials finals.
The Local Trials, which ran yesterday morning under tranquil blue skies, gave sixteen local surfers a chance at attaining these two coveted spots in the Main Event. The first heats were hotly contested, and although the incoming Northwest swell was a welcome sight yesterday morning, the high tide conditions left competitors scrambling though the lineup as they tried to pick off the inconsistent set waves.
“I’ve never surfed the Lane like this. All the places we usually surf, like the Point, or the Slot, were definitely not a factor today,” said twenty three year old trialist and Capitola resident, Matthew Myers, “It felt really unfamiliar out there. The waves didn’t really seem to have a lip. It was all about carves and cutbacks”
Despite the tricky conditions, the local surfers showed the visiting pro’s how to make the most of the Lane’s ever changing moods. Locals such as Jimmy Herrick, Omar Etcheverry, and Austin Smith-Ford surfed well in their first heats, advancing to the semi finals where they came up short of making the four man final. Although the tide began drawing out and the waves seemed to be building by the minute, the conditions for the final were extremely difficult.
Locals Matt Myers, Bud Freitas, Tyler Smith, and Brandon Barnes overcame the bump and managed to put together some good scores. Barnes, a nineteen year old Aptos resident received a bye into the event when Peter Mel, who was slated to compete in the Trials, decided to hold out in hoped of attaining an alternate spot in the Main Event. Despite linking together a few nice rides, Barnes was unable to keep his momentum going in the thirty five minute final.
“I didn’t think I was gonna even get in the Trials, but I did and even though I didn’t make the Main Event I’m stoked to get a chance to compete,” said Barnes of his run in the Trials.
In the end, it was the Westside’s own Tyler Smith, who stole the show using his local knowledge to pick off a number of excellent rides, negotiating the Lane’s bumpy walls with a smooth and precise backhand attack.
“ I haven’t been surfing that much lately but it felt good to win,” recounts Smith of his performance in the Trials. “Some of those heats were wave catching contest, When the waves came through it was fun, but today wasn’t the best direction for the Lane”
Bud Freitas used his powerful technique to take 2nd place, securing himself a spot in the Main Event along with Smith, while Barnes and Myers got sent home packing. As the day progressed, the tide drew out and the surf started pumping, with an uncharacteristically warm November sun leaving spectators wishing they were cooling off in the chilly emerald green water along with the competitors. The first fourteen Round of 128 heats were completed, and right out of the Local Trials, Smith and Freitas were thrown back into the contest singlet to bring their game to the host of hungry international adversaries.
Unfortunately, neither Smith or Freitas were able to advance from their respective heats. For Smith, the result is bittersweet, going from victory to defeat in a matter of hours.
“ I’m out of practice and it was hard to surf three heats in the Trials and then go straight into another one in the Main Event. It was pretty mushy out there and I guess I just ran out of gas,” said Smith of the end of his streak.
Freitas experiences a major upset in his heat against Ricky Whitlock, Ryan Arther, and Stuart Kennedy. Having made the semi-finals last year, he was a major favorite coming into this year’s event. With his vicious forehand snaps and smooth, swooping cutbacks, Freitas is a constant standout at the Lane, and his early round loss this year shows just how tough the event has become with it’s 6* Prime rating.
“I wish it didn’t happen that way,” said Freitas of his loss. “ I gotta just look forward to next year when I can give it another shot. Now I’m hoping to see one of my friends take it. I’d actually really like to see Ratboy win the thing”
The only local surfer to advance today was Noi Kaulukukui, whose last minute heroics got him the scores to advance into the Round of 96, where he’ll face last years champion and the pride of the Westside, Nat Young. Other local surfers yet to surf in the event include Kieran Horn and Jason “Ratboy” Collins, who will surf tomorrow as the last two heats of the Round of 128 are completed and Round of 96 commences. Get down to the Lane to check out the action or log onto www.coldwaterclassic.net for the Live Webcast.