By Patricia Sanchez

The chilling cold front that swept over Santa Cruz last week may have been a shock to Gavin Coleman, as it is currently summer in his native Australia. But the Aussie pushed on, finishing in first place in the World Kneeboarding Championship Saturday at Steamer’s Lane.

"It’s an amazing feeling," Coleman said. "It’s taken a long time to get here and a lot of people have helped me get to where I am. I actually feel like it was necessary for me to win the contest."

Kneeboarding is a form of surfing-somewhere between boogie-boarding and traditional surfing-which uses a shorter, wider board. The sport, which gained popularity in the late 1960s, involves riding along a wave, or through a "tube," on your knees (hence the name), instead of standing upright.

The World Kneeboard Championships, hosted by Kneeboarding Surfing USA, attracted surfers from South Africa, the UK and Ireland, Puerto Rico and several other countries around the globe. Contestants battled for a title and a $3,000 prize. Last year, Santa Cruz played host to the national championship, but this was the first world kneeboarding tournament to hit the California coast.

Three of the four finalists hailed from down under, while Barry Baker was the lone American representative. Baker finished in second, while Matt Gallagher took third. Last year’s kneeboarding champion, Baiden Smith, finished in fourth.

The small crowd that braved the weather to watch the competition cheered heartily for Baker on finals day, but the relatively small swell may have driven a number of spectators away.

"This is a classic place for surfing when there are good waves," Armando Colucci, who took fourth in the Masters division, said. "But I hoped they’d have been better."

The competition was postponed for an hour and a half because of the wimpy waves-between two and four feet-far smaller than the previous days’ swell.

"The first day was really probably the best waves," John Mel, a Santa Cruz native, said. "We had pretty good size waves. Probably six to eight foot waves. We’ve had contestable waves for probably every one of the heats. But what we have is easily contestable."

For Colucci, the biggest problem Saturday was not the size of waves, but rather the bitter cold.

"It’s not the waves that are so different, but the cold," said Colucci, who is from Venezuela. "We are from a different climate and the cold here is too much."

However, the weather failed to affect Coleman’s performance, as he and his fellow Aussies braved the icy waves.

"It’s just a great atmosphere even though it was freezing cold," Coleman said. "But that’s life."