By Lauren Foliart
City News Reporter

Glassy waters, firing sets, and perfect 4- to 6-foot A-frame waves made for flawless conditions on the last day of the 2008 O’Neill Cold Water Classic. As the surfers lined up at local hotspot Steamer’s Lane, the feeling was universal among competitors and spectators: stoked.

Professional surfers from across the country gathered in Santa Cruz last weekend for Northern California’s paramount surfing event, the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Qualifying Series (WQS).

The O’Neill Cold Water Classic was established in Santa Cruz in 1988 because of “The Lane’s” unique natural structure. The cliffs around Lighthouse Beach make for great surf and arena-like openings, creating a space ideal for both surfers and viewers.

An event highly anticipated by both participants and community members, Santa Cruz spectators were granted the extra delight of seeing local surfer Nat Young become this year’s WQS champion.

“I’m super excited,” Young told the press after being carried up the Steamer’s Lane staircase in celebration. “I lost in the juniors and just wanted to do good in this. Just making the finals was good, and to win it…”

The 17-year-old defeated fellow local professional surfing icons Jason “Ratboy” Collins, 34, and Randy Bonds, 31, in the semifinals with a score of 12.67.

Although Young was alongside other Santa Cruz competitors, support for the teenage surfer was overwhelming among the crowd. Signs reading “GO NAT!” lined the streets of West Cliff Drive and enthusiastic fans cheered him on through the several hours that the contest lasted.

“It’s been a long day,” Young said. “I’ve been in my wetsuit since 7 a.m.”

Winning both his quarterfinal and semifinal heats, Young delivered phenomenal yet suspenseful performances in the last seconds of his heat. Most surprising was a wave caught in the remaining 35 seconds of his quarterfinal, placing him first in his heat and advancing him to semifinals.

“I wasn’t sure I was going to make it,” Young said. “I saw the wall closing and there was only 35 seconds, but I think the stress helped.”

Named one of the top five surfers of the year, Young will represent the United States at the Billabong ASP World Junior Championship in Australia.

Held in conjunction with the WQS at Steamer Lane is the Oakley Pro Junior ASP North America Championship. The winner, 20-year-old Mason Ho of Hawaii’s North Shore, finished the competition with a nearly perfect score: 19.10 out of 20.

“It’s just good to know that hard work pays off,” Ho said after his win. “The reward is great, but it’s just cool to win one.”

Along with summer vacations and boardwalk festivities, Santa Cruz’s Cold Water Classic produces some of the most condensed crowds the city sees all year. The Classic has evolved into a local tradition, bringing out town camaraderie within the community.

Luke Erikson, a surfer and Santa Cruz native, has attended the Cold Water Classic since it started in 1988.

“I love coming and watching these guys shred waves,” Erikson said. “It’s inspirational to see them kick ass at something you know they’ve worked so hard for. And to have a local win it all — that’s epic.”