Monday, August 23, 1999
The first women's longboardBy Greg Ambrose
championship in more than 30 years
was more about the fun than it
was about winning
Special to the Star-Bulletin
THEY held a surf contest, and to everyone's amazement and delight, all the contestants had fun. Rivals were giving each other waves and hooting for each other's rides, and although only one wahine was crowned champion, the competitors reckon they were all winners.
Holding the event in perfect waves in Costa Rica might have contributed to the festive feelings. But there should have been a tad more tension, as a world title was at stake, the first women's longboard championship in more than three decades.
No way, brah. The top wahine surfers from across the planet were keen to show that girls just want to have fun.
The talent pool was deep and wide, and a revelation to wahine wave riders who had known of each other only through magazine photos and surf videos.
When Alayna Schiebel of Santa Cruz, Calif., paddled out on the first day when the waves were overhead and consistent, she was amazed to watch her surfing sisters in action.
"I wasn't even paying attention to the top 50 guys in the world, I was totally amazed by the women and their talent."
Cori Schumacher has been competing since the age of 8, but this contest was an eye-opener.
"The Hawaii girls did well, but anyone could have won. The 15 women from Hawaii were the biggest contenders there, every one of them ripped. They just didn't get the waves. The ability was incredible, I've never seen that much talent in one place."
Despite the quality of the performers and performances, the most remarkable aspect of the contest was the fun factor.
"The best part was no one was being aggressive," said contest winner Daize Shane, formerly of Waimanlo but now living in California. "Every heat I was in, every girl was happy just to be in the contest."
"Surfing was like the side salad of the contest," said Waianae surfer Desiree DeSoto. "We don't get out very often, and we met everyone that we never see, except in magazines. It was so awesome, the camaraderie with other surfers was worth the whole trip. We were stuck in the same place, eating, partying and surfing together."
The event ended a week ago yesterday. It was held at at Boca Barranca in Costa Rica, a point with a bottom contour that lines up the waves and lets them break in perfect, long peeling lefts. The waves were perfectly suited for the casual elegance of longboard surfing.
"The swell started out overhead and pumping," said Schumacher. "It's such an insane, perfect wave. You can ride it until you can't stand anymore."
Unfortunately for most of the Hawaii crew, the swell diminished with each passing day, and the final heats were held in weak, sectioning little wavelets. Oahu's Rene Harada shared 7th place. Summer Woolsley reached equal fifth.
After Shane, the next three spots went to Californians.
"I really give them credit," said DeSoto. "The California girls shined when the waves dropped in size, they just go on the nose forever. You don't see much noseriding in Hawaii like that."
The small waves were no problem for Shane, 21, who used her petite size and large 9-foot, 4-inch board to deadly effect by parking herself on the nose and staying there.
Most contestants nodded in approval at the appropriateness of the riders who made it through to the victory stage, as they were a cross-section of women's longboarding.
Shane seldom competes, and was talked into entering the contest at the last minute by her boyfriend's best friend, Josh Baxter, who also loaned her his surfboard.
Schumacher, 22, had to be persuaded to enter the contest by her mother after spending the past 10 months away from the waves while attending school in San Francisco.
Kim Hamrock is twice as old as the other top finishers, has a husband and three children and was uncertain whether she was too ancient to compete.
And Brittany Leonard prefers to surf for pleasure rather than points.
Despite their playful performance in the waves, the competitors were keenly aware of the significance of the contest.
"We all understood what it meant, since it was the first longboard championship since the '60s," said Schumacher. "No matter who won, we were all winners, because we were making history."
It is history that is likely to be repeated. The inaugural Women's World Longboard Championship was held in conjunction with the 7th annual Toes on the Nose Rabbit Kekai Longboard Classic. It was a test by contest director Hank Raymond, who for years has been trying to organize women's competitions after watching his daughter and her surfing friends languish through a dearth of contests for wahine.
The contest easily passed Raymond's test.
"I was overwhelmed by the number of women who showed up," Raymond said. "I was hoping to get 25, and 52 ended up competing."
Surf photographers and magazine writers also swarmed the contest, and Fox TV filmed the action for later broadcast. As a bonus, Raymond's daughter Kirsten tied for 5th place.
Raymond promised that next year the women's championship will be bigger and better, with continued sponsorship from Jimmy Buffet's Radio Margaritaville.
"My vision for women is to start out simple with a longboard tour in the U.S., two contests in California, two on the East Coast, one in Hawaii and the championship in Costa Rica."
If enough sponsors climb aboard, Raymond would like to turn the series into a truly international tour, with additional stops in France, Australia and elsewhere in the surfing world.
The Hawaii contingent made sure everyone else had a good time. The special flowers Diane Taylor brought to make haku leis were confiscated by customs officials, so she picked flowers from the hotel grounds to garland the competitors with leis. The other Hawaii surfers entertained their fellow wave riders with ukulele, song and hula.
The aloha spirit was especially tangible for the contest winner.
"I felt like Rell Sunn was giving me waves because I was giving away waves," said Shane. "For every wave I gave away, a better wave was right behind."
Oh yes, her boyfriend, Joel Tudor, won the Rabbit Kekai Longboard Classic.
"We both felt kind of cheesy about it," said Shane. "It's like the prom king and queen."
Said DeSoto, "It was heaven over there. I'm definitely going to make it a priority to go next year. There was so much positive energy there.
"It was the best surfing experience of my life so far."