In some ways, the return of surfing competition felt like normalcy once again – navigating the waves at the iconic Huntington Beach Pier, the thrill of earning a high score, surfers said.
But there was also something special about this weekend’s return of competitive surfing in Orange County for the first time in a year.
“It kind of felt normal. It was really nice having something normal,” said San Clemente surfer Sawyer Lindblad, who earned USA Surfing Prime titles in both the under 18 and under 16 divisions. “After the contest, I just felt really grateful I was able to compete and be back doing what I love.”
Surfing, because it is done outdoors and distance can be kept between competitors, is one of the first youth sports to get back in action following a year-long break.
The event drew more than 100 of the West Coast’s best junior surfers to battle it out for West Coast titles. It also served as a qualification into the Toyota USA Surfing Championships to be held at Lower Trestles later this year. The event is the highest level of junior amateur competition in the nation.
Lindblad is just one of several Orange County surfers who reached the podium on the final day, Sunday.
San Clemente’s Jett Schilling earned the win in the boys under 18 division and fellow San Clemente surfer Rex Hennings earned top spot in the under 14 division.
Like other young athletes who want to keep their competitive edge, many of the surfers never stopped training as the pandemic stretched on and on.
“I felt like all my hard work had paid off. I never stopped,” Lindblad said. “Since we haven’t competed in a year, it just felt extra special to take away a win in the first event back.”
Andrea Swayne, USA Surfing chief operating officer, said it was apparent the kids had kept their skill levels high.
“By the show of the talent we saw, the kids have continued to grow even though we hadn’t been competing,” she said. “It was really great to see.”
Lindblad was a stand-out, dominating in the under 18 and under 16 division, Swayne said. “Her surfing was really, really on point. She just really dazzled, both days.”
USA Surfing coach Brett Simpson did a training session before the contest with the USA National Junior team, which in 2019 took home gold during the International Surfing Association Junior World Championships.
Their growth was apparent not just in their surf skills, Swayne said.
“Not seeing many of the kids myself for the year – I almost didn’t recognize some of them,” she said. “But seeing them back, most of them on new equipment, you can see by their body language and style, these were the same kids, but much improved as athletes.”
Coronavirus safety protocols were in place during the contest, including space between judges and asking parents and competitors not to congregate.
“We had to make some adjustments and everyone was pretty cool about it,” Swayne said.
There was swell that kept the action going during the two-day event, but Saturday had some wild winds that were less than ideal.
“We were hit with wind from every possible direction – onshore, offshore, south and north,” Swayne said. “It was victory at sea, for quite a while. Usually, that would bum some kids out, but everyone was just happy to be there. Sand was flying, it looked like a sand storm.”
On Sunday, conditions cleaned up and the sun came out.
The lack of surf contests the past year was a reminder not to take the sport of surfing – or each other – for granted, Swayne said.
“That gets lost on kids a little bit because they live in the moment,” she said. “Being back together with friends and good waves and good times and doing what they love – I think it sunk in a little bit.”
The surf competition action will continue when the National Scholastic Surfing Association holds the 2020 West Coast Championships – which didn’t happen last summer – at the Oceanside Pier this upcoming weekend.
And, USA Surfing will also host a contest in Oceanside at the end of March, before returning to San Onofre State Beach and T-Street in San Clemente in April.
- 1st: Sawyer Lindblad, San Clemente
- 2nd: Alyssa Spencer, Carlsbad
- 3rd: Caitlin Simmers, Oceanside
- 4th: Lilie Kulber, Laguna Beach
- 1st: Jett Schilling, San Clemente
- 2nd: Lucas Owston, Oceanside
- 3rd: Kyan Yang, Encinitas
- 4th: Raiki Nishida, San Clemente
- 1st: Sawyer Lindblad, San Clemente
- 2nd: Caitlin Simmers, Oceanside
- 3rd: Bella Kenworthy, Dana Point
- 4th: Syd Ott, Encinitas
- 1st: Cole McCaffray, Encinitas
- 2nd :Lucas Owston, Oceanside
- 3rd: Ben Brantell, San Clemente
- 4th: Greyson Grant, Encinitas
- 1st: Rex Hennings, San Clemente
- 2nd: Adam Bartlett, Santa Cruz
- 3rd: Petey Romaniuk, Huntington Beach
- 4th: Charlie Stevens, San Clemente
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