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New Coldwater Classic Format A Crowd Pleaser

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Keep reading if you like: Santa Cruz surfing, O'Neill Coldwater Classic, Steamer Lane

by Hanae Armitage

Nov. 6, 2013—As the original surf town, Santa Cruz relishes the opportunity to host the world champions of surfing in the cold waters of Steamer Lane every year. In the past, the O’Neill Coldwater Classic surf competition facilitated the superstars’ sojourn, bringing them in for a wave-carving, tail-throwing showdown. What could beat that? Apparently, the underdogs of the surf world—the locals, the unsponsored and the unexpected. Of course it’s sick to see Kelly Slater shred the waves, but among the audience congregated at the Lane on Wednesday, the consensus was clear: It’s just as sick to uncover brand new raw talent. Maybe sicker.

This year the Coldwater Classic switched up the usual suspects, replacing the traditional champs with a combination of amateurs and unsponsored competitors. O’Neill even sweetened the deal with a winner-take-all $50,000 prize purse, which went to Torrey Meister of the Big Island on Wednesday afternoon. About a quarter of onlookers didn’t even know about the change-up. They were just there for some quality surfing, no reputation or name brands required. But those who were aware of the Coldwater Classic’s new game plan generally sang the same tune.

“I think it’s really awesome to give people who may not be represented a chance in a bigger competition,” said Santa Cruz local Sheryl Kern-Jones. “It can work them into the professional circuit. After all, it’s always better to introduce more surfers into the Coldwater Classic and have new competition than keep the talent the same.”

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Another spectator, Nancy Eldrege, chimed in, “It gives these kids a real opportunity to move up, one that they may not otherwise have.”

Interested in the full spectrum of opinions, I asked a high school girl her thoughts on the champion-to-underdog switcheroo. “I don’t know,” she shrugged. “I just come ’cause they’re hot.”

Michael Cho, a particularly knowledgeable and animated audience member, came down solidly on the side of the new CWC. “For the Coldwater Classic to be an unsponsored event is weirdly cool,” he said. “You get to see the young, unsponsored, upcoming surfers compete against the unsponsored veterans of the cold water. It’s pretty rad.”

Between cheers for his favorite local surfer, Cho illustrated the diversity of competitors. “Sean Burns is only 21. I don’t think he’s ever surfed in the Coldwater Classic, but he’s a great example of O’Neill encouraging new surfers to join the sport. Usually every other year you see the typical surfers like Kelly Slater. But this time, I don’t even know half the people out here, and I come and see them bustin’ the sickest moves. It’s awesome.”

But wave-watcher Clyde Zirbel summed it up best: “I think it’s great that unsponsored surfers can come out here, have a good day and get their name out. They deserve to be noticed.”

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Really? anyone outside of SC say so? Not Malibu, not La Jolla, not Laguna? Or how about Long Beach before the LA harbor expansion. Nice self aggrandizing slogan just the same......