By Coach Benner Cummings
After several months of observing our local surfers competing in challenging surfing championships such as the California Cup, NSSA Nationals, US Open, CIFs via Trestles, Churches, Huntington Beach and Oceanside, one might conclude that those surfers most highly aggressive with unwavering wills, are often as not the top place finishers. They direct their mental focus on sound but zippy body movements, excellent placement, balance, good vision and a correct wave choice. As surfing is the unrelenting thing that it is, with perhaps a poor choice of waves it soon becomes a most unforgiving arena. Still, skilled surfers learn to deal with this and quickly turn things around to their liking. Surfing against such unsettling elements, and the arduous competition, are what make surfing such a challenging sport. Strangely enough, serious setbacks sometimes make a surfer more appealing to the press and the adoring public alike. Still, it remains a certainty that a determined self-assured attitude towards winning almost always helps in a surfer’s heat scores – as much as two to three points to one over standard basic physical routines.
Surfing is a family affair for the Gudauskas brothers. Often in contests, judges unfamiliar with correct skills sometimes overrate gremmies - with their wild flailing bluff -. Let them enter a top WQT contest, and it quickly becomes another story. Here it becomes “the man” against “men,” mental focus is all important, and you find San Clemente surfers at their given best: young, strong, almost purposely bold. It is here, if you watch closely, that you begin to witness, to sense, the real essence of their talent, in that they love to surf above all!
Surfing almost daily here in San Clemente, engaging in long hours of practice with success as their motivator, conditions surfers and hones their talent. Gifted with body coordination their skills are enhanced by working the great breaks around the world, the warm ocean swells that bathe the beaches of Bali, or the frigid shore breaks off southern Chile below the sky-high Andes. Or the slow, lazy days surfing the long blue-green hallways of Teahupoo, then stomping its nights away to wild Tahitian drums. Surfers also throw snappy backsiders off the grassy knoll breaks of sun-baked Morocco, and test the formidable waves that forever crash along the coastlines of western Mexico. Casual meanderings are the surfers’ prevailing theme, in the midst of the tradition and stability most are engulfed with. Almost indifferent to the excesses that appear to surround them, they create a unique world of their own while trying to follow their dreams.
Perhaps it’s the sun-baked messages floating across their minds daily hinting, “There are unchallenged waves out there. So why not go and find them?” Dreams? Maybe. But Yeats summed it up for all dreamers when he wrote, “Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.” Yet there are many who have never dreamed as much, or even shared in the “empires of the sea.” The brotherhood of surfing is a select water-world centered on each other and their personal choices. They surf those faraway places that give the “sweet ride,” freedom, health and a splash of eternal youth. In those isolated places like Aitutaki, Funafuti, Manihihi, Pandang, Uluwatu and challenging Teahupoo, where the waves sometimes bare mock appalling “jaws.”
Perhaps the Egyptian author Constantine Cavafis expressed it best when he wrote those enduring lines in his poem “Ithaca,” about the Odyssey’s ancient travels: “Do not hurry the journey at all – better if it lasts many years and you dock rich with all you have gained along the way.” There is no truer explanation of surfers’ feelings towards freedom, to whet their appetites on a lifestyle free of politics, philosophies – almost everything – finding in themselves their own strength of character.
San Clemente’s Own
These are soul-nagging temptations to younger gremmies, tugging at minds already crowded with rich dreams of travel and surfing adventures like those of the accomplished Gudauskas brothers, Patrick, Dane and Tanner. Surfers highly motivated and not the least bit afraid to seek out their own goals. Not since the McNulty brothers has San Clemente been so blessed with such a surfing triumvirate. The twins, Dane and Patrick Gudauskas, have lately become the proud recipients of the Silver Medallion Award for their consistent skills, honors, conduct and sincere sportsmanship over the past five years, including laurels received from the 2003-04 NSSA Nationals, where each twin won the Governor’s Cup.
It is interesting to note that no NSSA Senior Men’s Champion has ever repeated winning that men’s title since Kilani Robb of Hawaii in 1994. Mike Losness tried in 1999, losing to Fred Patacchia from Hawaii. Maybe the hardest victory to earn is that of a defending champion. Patrick Gudauskas, winner in 2003, lost to brother Dane in 2004.
The younger San Clemente surfers now long for these glories, amongst them, brother Tanner Gudauskas and a skilled Dane Ward. Both are stars on Coach Hartman’s champion teams and are members of the USA National Junior Men’s team as well. Other San Clemente locals like Casey Landvogt, Troy Motherhead, Jason Miller, Trevor Saunders, Chris Watt and eleven-year-old Kolohe Andino continue striving to improve. And add those gifted women surfers, Colleen Mehlberg and Lexi Papillion to the list of those SC surfers waiting in the wings, biding their time – watching, surfing, loving the sport for all its freshness, camaraderie and athletic grace. These are the individuals who keep the colorful surfing industry ever growing. The poet John Milton paid quiet tribute to their likes when he wrote these salient lines, “They also serve who stand and watch and wait.”
This past year saw the crowd-pleasing Orange County Games surfing team win top honors, thanks to the strong surfing efforts of locals Chris Ward, Dino Andino, Brett Simpson, Nate Yeomans and Mike Losness -- who managed to pull off a wild aerial in front of the judges’ stand.
It appears that Nate Yeomans, Gavin Beschen, Andy Gahan, Travis Mellum, John Robinson and Losness are those dangerously skillful surfers we stop to admire, but often overlook in searching for another “giant” to keep our domination over “Oz Land.” Yet it has been the excellent surfing done by these same surfers over the past years in Orange County and California, along with the Gudauskas twins, who are certainly most representative of the billion-dollar surfing industry. It is even more admirable when one realizes that surfing has to be one of the most difficult of all sports to truly master. Water conditions, current, wind, board, balance and the adjustments needed each time a surfer enters the water to compete against elements that often change hourly, make it difficult to place as high as planned, let alone win such competitions as The Governor’s Cup, The California Cup, X-Games, CIF’s WQT, or WCT, nationally or even internationally.
San Clemente had Shane Beschen, Mike Losness, Nate Yeomans, and Patrick Gudauskas selected from San Clemente surfers to represent West Coast surfing against powerhouse team surfers from the East Coast. That alone was a deserving honor for our locals, with Mike Parker, Dino Andino and Chris Drummy as their coaches. The “Games” are once again in the making for this spring. San Clemente’s colorful Chris Ward has now qualified for the world championship tour, an exciting crowd-pleasing success here in Orange County. In addition, Brad Gerlach’s participation as the “Games” organizer certainly has something going for the future of surfing in the state as well as nationally and internationally.
The first winning Orange County team members, selected by Captain Mike Parker, become a timeline to the future. As with many others, both past and present, they deserve City recognition. Perhaps it would be in the form of an award statue or bronze plaque, to commemorate their efforts over these many seasons of building San Clemente surfing to state, national and now world-class levels. Huntington Beach has two such surfing statues. Hawaii has a large one at the entrance of the airport, as do Australia, Florida, France and South Africa. Perhaps one day, a like honor will grace the entrance to our city pier or T-Street.
Our old guard surfers started back in the “classical period” where judges and the National Surfing Association, as in ice-skating, stressed the classic basic moves. Now, surfers here in San Clemente, along with many others, are breaking away, becoming bolder, almost impervious to the external pressures of older styles. Yet, be assured, as they move and continue to promote the Beschen, Wardo, Andino, Fletcher wide-open flair-up style on our coast, more eye-catching styles will follow. Thus the so-called classical style of “ride, slide and glide,” with its clean staid flows, will soon be regulated to a slowly fading obscurity. Many local surfers already – purposely or even mischievously – throw in crowd-pleasing aerials, wild cutback slashes, daring 180s and 360s, some even challenging with “big wave” thrillers, trying to vanquish waves over 75 feet high. San Clemente has three – in Mike Parsons, Greg and Rusty Long. Add to this, three-time world longboard champion Collin McPhillips, superb Josh Baxter, Brendan White and Dustin Franks. Thus what you now have is a continuous wave of San Clemente surfers exploding with talented energies that would seem to appear almost inexhaustible. b