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Saturday, July 26, 2003



[ SURFING ]


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DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Joey Valentin rubbed China Uemura's stomach for good luck after surfing the finals in the Longboard Classic at Kewalo Basin. The winner won't be announced until tomorrow.



Uemura Classic
gives pro surfers
a chance to shine

The annual longboard contest
continues today at Kuhio Beach


Hawaii surfing legend China Uemura is nearing two decades with his annual longboard event. Yet he hasn't stopped finding new ways of using it as a vehicle to help both the community and those who enjoy his sport.

A traveling professional surfer in his younger years, Uemura for the first time ran a pro division with a lucrative cash purse at the 19th annual China Uemura/Moku Hawaii Longboard Surfing Classic yesterday at Kewalo Basin. Wave faces ranged from 2 to 6 feet.

"I was a pro surfer -- this is my way of giving back," Uemura, 48, said. "These new kids, I want them to go and represent Hawaii like I did."

According to Uemura, the $2,400 purse is the biggest for a local pro longboarding event. Results from the four-man final won't be announced until tomorrow -- when the contest's 11 amateur divisions finish -- but half of it is guaranteed to the winner, $600 to the runner-up, and $300 to the third- and fourth-place finishers.

A lot of the pros who participated travel on the world longboard tour already or would like to, but coming up with enough money is tough, Uemura said. "I figured with my contest, we could keep training these guys and help them so they can go on the tour. ... Also, my son is a pro, too."

Uemura's son, 20-year-old Kekoa, finished just short of the money yesterday, going down in the semifinals. The younger Uemura is No. 18 in the world tour rankings, but he's home for a while, since the next major contest is not until November, with the Oxbow World Championships at Raglan, New Zealand.

Still, he and the other pros enjoyed the chance to keep their skills sharp, and especially liked the Classic's relatively unique set-up -- where almost the entire entry fee went into the purse pool and the award amounts grew larger as more competitors entered.

Twenty-four pros ended up competing and paid the $125 entry fee, with $100 from each entry creating the $2,400 purse.

"Another pro event for us longboarders is always good -- we don't have too many on the islands," Kekoa Uemura said. And the purse structure "is actually the best way you could possibly do a pro event. It makes the pot bigger, draws more people."

Some pros participated in the Classic in the past by entering the open division and receiving no cash regardless of finish.

Though they don't yet know exactly where they placed and how much they won, yesterday's finalists were: former world champion and current world No. 2 Bonga Perkins, of Hawaii; touring Hawaii pro Duane DeSoto (No. 57); local pro Joey Valentin; and Jye Byrnes, the current world No. 3, convinced by Perkins to stop in Hawaii for the contest on his way back home to Australia.

"The waves weren't big, but really fun," Perkins said. "Coming off tour and coming home to do this contest that I did for a number of years, (being) with some of my friends -- China, most of all -- I'm pretty happy. ... Win or lose, I still would have had fun. Making it to the final is just icing on the cake."

Said Byrnes: "I'm glad to be here, it's fantastic. ... This is more relaxing (than the world tour) and to me it's more fun. But it's good to keep (competing), too, at the same time."

With seven total rides, Valentin surfed the most waves in the 25-minute final. Perkins followed with six rides, DeSoto five and Byrnes four. Only the top two rides of each competitor count toward his final score.

Though he nabbed one of the two biggest waves of the final early on, Valentin tended to hang on the inside and pick off as many of the smaller waves as possible. Perkins caught the other large set, while highlights from the other two surfers included DeSoto executing a helicopter spin on his second-to-last wave and Byrnes carving drawn-out cutback/rebound combinations.

"There wasn't that much sets, so I just went for whatever wave I could get. I figured just keep busy, keep moving," Valentin said.

The Classic moves to the Queen's break of Kuhio Beach in Waikiki today and tomorrow, with about 260 amateurs set to compete.

As he's always done, China Uemura selected two charitable causes to benefit from this year's Classic. The beneficiaries splitting the remaining $25 from each pro's entry fee and the $30 asked of each of the amateurs are Mark Akamine -- a longtime Ala Moana beach boy who recently suffered a massive stroke -- and the Moana Nui Foundation Hawaii -- a Big Island group Uemura says utilizes "Hawaiian culture exchange" to help keep kids busy and off drugs.

Among others, the event was also dedicated to former Honolulu police officer Glen Gaspar, who was killed in the line of duty earlier this year.

"It's special," Perkins said. "At least the pros can not only take money, but give money as well. I think they should have pro events like this every time, or (at least) a few of them."

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