The Coldwater Classic makes waves in Santa Cruz
Local pro surfer Nat Young, who was awarded the Wild Card to compete in this year’s O’Neill Coldwater Classic competition at Steamer Lane the day before, wowed spectators’ and fueled Santa Cruz pride on Thursday, Nov. 1, when he came out on top during his heat against 11-time world champion Kelly Slater. It made for an exciting start to the 10-day event.
On Wednesday, Oct. 31, the 21-year-old went up against 11 other surfers, including locals Bud Freitas, Noi Kaulukukui, Adam Replogle, Josh Mulcoy, Randy Bonds, Shaun Burns, Josh Loya and Jimmy Herrick, to compete for an O’Neill Wild Card, which is designed to place more Santa Cruz locals like Young in the contest. The other Wild Card was issued to Jason “Rat Boy” Collins.
The Coldwater Classic helped to launch Young’s surfing career when he won the event four years ago. But now, for the first time in almost 20 years, the competition is the ninth of 10 stops on the Association of Surfing Professionals’ World Championship Tour, bolstering its profile. It’s a big step up for Young, but not unexpected, says Kieran Horn, the O’Neill brand manager for the Americas.
He says all eyes were on Young during the trial on Halloween day.
“Nat is the guy to be,” Horn says. “He’s our competitor representing Santa Cruz. It’s great to have him on the World Tour.”
Among the 34 elite surfers Young will compete against are Joel Parkinson, of Australia, John John Florence, of Hawaii, and Mick Fanning, also from Australia. Fanning came in first last month at both the Quiksilver Pro France and Hurley Pro in Southern California and has won the ASP World Championship twice—in 2007 and 2009.
During a high tide lull in the swell Wednesday morning, Fanning and Florence, both 20, sat down in the O’Neill tent for a press conference. Slater and Parkinson were expected to be in attendance but were held up—Slater by Hurricane Sandy complications in New York.
Contest director Chris Gallagher, who moderated the conference, said Florence’s performance throughout the tour has been extremely impressive, making lots of wins.
At the start of the meeting, Florence sat behind the table wearing an orange button-up shirt and a ghoulish pumpkin mask over his head.
He said he has watched and idolized many of the surfers he is now competing against.
“It’s wild surfing with a lot of these guys,” he said. To keep it up, Florence said he will just try to stay focused and keep having fun.
Florence said that Fanning, who was sitting to his left with a black cap and big black sunglasses, was a surfer he has looked up to for a long time. Fanning, in turn, noted that he learns something new from Florence every day.
“It’s great to see the way new guys [like Florence] come through and look at the wave differently,” Fanning said.
Florence said he has traveled to surf Steamer Lane all his life but that the break offers up some tricky waves and always presents a learning curve. Fanning said he hadn’t surfed in Santa Cruz for more than a decade.
Horn called the Coldwater Classic a critical event on the World Tour, as it is the last stop before the Triple Crown in Hawaii, which begins the day after Coldwater finishes. The winner of the event will take away a whopping $425,000 prize. The holding period goes until Sunday, Nov. 11 and conditions look favorable. Heats begin as early at 7:30 a.m. depending on the swell.
For more information or to watch a live stream of the competition, visit oneill.com/cwc.
PHOTOS BY KEANA PARKER. Top and bottom photos of John John Florence. Middle photo of Florence and Mick Fanning.