As the sun peeked through the clouds over the calm waters of Steamer Lane, the Santa Cruz surfing community anxiously waited as the announcers for the 2015 Coldwater Classic kicked off the event with the local qualifying rounds on Saturday morning at 8 a.m.
The swells came slowly and very choppy, causing the first few riders to lose their footing, while others waited and chose their waves carefully. On the second and third days of the competition, some big swells came in from a storm that developed in the southern Gulf of Alaska.
The annual Coldwater Classic, Santa Cruz’s most anticipated surfing competition of the year, was the 30th event in the World Surf League’s (WSL) qualifying series sponsored and televised online by O’Neill and Red Bull. Competitors vie for a spot on WSL Champion Tour, along with $50,000 and 1,500 ranking points.
This year’s winner was the Brazilian rider, Rafael Teixeira, who won $8,000 of the prize purse. In the final round, he smashed his first wave with a 9.00 score, but struggled to match that in his second wave of the heat. However his second wave’s score of 7.10 was easy enough to beat runner-up Derek Peters, who scored 2.2 total points under Teixeira.
“I’m really, really stoked — this is the best day of my life,” Teixeira said during a press conference after his win. Going into the competition unsponsored, Teixeira was an underdog among the 96 competitors from 12 different countries. Most athletes were from the continental U.S. and Hawaii, and competitors as young as 19 went against some of the best surfers in the world.
The Classic was also well represented by the Santa Cruz surf community. Nine local athletes competed in the main event, and eight in the local trials for the wildcard spot. A Westside Santa Cruz native Randy Bonds finished third overall with a score of 5.97. Bonds is No. 31 in the North American qualifying series, and his overall qualifying rank is 271.
“The Coldwater Classic is a perfect example of maintaining the traditional values of surfing — a local competition put on by a local company [O’Neil] that works to promote unsponsored surfers and give them a shot to make it big in the surfing world,” said UCSC surf team president Luke Sampiere. “The Santa Cruz community supports this event and acknowledges its differences from other contests.”
The locals were selected from the different surfing areas around Santa Cruz — three from the Westside, three from the Eastside and two from Midtown. The wildcard winner Bud Freitas made it through to the quarterfinals. Freitas maintained an average score of 11.24 throughout the competition.
“I had a great time yesterday and now it’s getting more fun because everyone gets to take their time and select their waves,” Freitas said in a press conference. “Positioning gets a lot better and you’re not getting stuck somewhere weird way off the bowl — it’s actually really fun so I was stoked. I would honestly love to win this event. It would just be a dream come true but at this point I’m stoked with whatever happens. I’ve already made it way further than I thought.”
The sport of surfing not only has its own culture, but its own language. Lingo spilled out of the announcer’s booth, and comments on the rad moves and nuggets of waves were learning experiences for anyone new to the surfing world. Competitors were deemed surfing gurus if they were able to carve the wave or throw in a move such as a 360 off the top.
Steamer Lane is famous in the surfing world and has a dynamic setting as the surfers battle for a priority spot to catch the wave around the point. While the waves break around the cliff, spectators anticipate which surfer will appear from behind the point.
“The atmosphere at the lane is very unique as spectators can stand directly above the surfers providing a stadium-like feel,” UCSC surf team president Sampiere said. “It picks up swell all year-round and you can surf up to four different waves there for hundreds of yards, making a popular surfing spot.”
Sampiere said the surfing community in general holds some animosity toward students since they come to Santa Cruz for nine months of the year and flock the surf spots. The Westside locals are very close and hold traditional values to keep the status quo at the different surf spots. The surf team, created four years ago and now with about 30 members, tries to mend the relationship and spread positive vibes by respecting the locals and the ocean.
Matching the turnout at the Coldwater Classic, the UCSC club has members from different countries and across the country. The surf team will compete in its first of four competitions this weekend down in southern California against 30 schools. Only specific members will attend and compete in both longboard and shortboard divisions.
Surfing is a chance game. It’s about reading the waves and understanding the speed and flow — but ultimately it’s about finding the perfect time to ride the perfect nugget.