DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kekoa Enriquez only caught two waves in the final, but he made his last ride count as he won the pro-am finals of the 23rd annual China Uemura / Bud Light Longboard Surfing Classic at Queen's break off Kuhio Beach yesterday.
A Classic victory
Kekoa Enriquez rips the waves at Waikiki to win Uemura Classic title
As the surfer in the pro-am final with the least experience, the Big Island's Kekoa Enriquez surfed like a veteran yesterday at the 23rd annual China Uemura/Bud Light Longboard Surfing Classic.
Patiently waiting for and riding only two waves during the entire 30-minute decider, the 19-year-old from Puna tallied 13.43 total points (out of a maximum 20) to take the four-man final and the $1,500 top prize.
"I figured it was a long heat, so no sense to paddle for all the little waves," Enriquez said. "I just wanted to get one under my belt, and then wait for a better one. I'm stoked, and this boosts my confidence a lot."
Waves were in the 1- to 4-foot-face range at the Queen's break off Kuhio Beach yesterday, the first of four straight days of competition for the Classic.
Thirty-one surfers competed in the pro-am division. More than 300 surfers are expected to compete in the Classic, which also includes 15 amateur divisions, and a Japanese vs. Hawaii pro competition to be held today.
The pro-am surfers -- including three women and several Japanese pros -- each surfed three rounds of preliminary heats. Their top two waves from each preliminary heat were added together, and the top four surfers qualified for the final.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kekoa Enriquez was all smiles after he was presented the winner's trophy by surf promoter China Uemura, who is holding his sister-in-law's 6-year-old granddaughter, Anela Dongchie, at the China Uemura/Bud Light Longboard Surfing Classic.
Three Honolulu surfers joined Enriquez in the final, with Kai Sallas (12.22 points) placing second, Uemura's son Kekoa Uemura (11.17) third and Keegan Edwards (7.16) fourth.
Enriquez did not catch his first wave until 18 minutes had already passed, but notched a decent 5.60 score after two consecutive transitions from noserides into cutback/rebound combinations.
He then backed that up with his only other and best ride of the final 7 minutes later, scoring a 7.83 after first riding on the nose of his board, then executing a cutback/rebound combo, a big off-the-top and finishing with another cutback/rebound.
"This is my first placing against all these big Hawaii guys, my first final," Enriquez said. "I was just lucky that those waves came to me, because all these guys are animals out there."
Sallas was the top qualifier after the three preliminary rounds, and logged the most waves (seven) overall in the final and the top single score (9.17). But Sallas was unanimously flagged for an interference by the three judges after he and Edwards paddled for the same wave early in the decider, and only received half the points for his second-best wave in the heat as a result -- which ended up costing him the victory.
Sallas had quickly returned to Hawaii from California -- where he was preparing for and will surf in the U.S. Open this weekend after flying back today -- just for the chance to surf in the Classic.
"They could've called it either way because the wave wasn't even breaking yet," said Sallas of the ruling. "I didn't affect his scoring potential; he was still going straight, lying down, when I pulled out. I'm bummed that I flew all the way back here, and I would've won but (the judges) had to call me on a stupid interference."
For his part, Edwards agreed with Sallas.
"I personally didn't think it was (an interference), but it's not my call," Edwards said. "He was already in the lead, and I guess he should've backed off. It cost him."