Gavin Gillette of Kauai earned his way onto Team Hawaii for the second straight year at the final trials yesterday.

Hawaii chooses its team

Team Hawaii can now begin preparations to surf against the rest of the world.

The last of three Hawaii Amateur Surfing Association World Team Trials events was held yesterday in 2- to 3-foot-face waves at Kewalo Basin, and as a result, all 12 slots on the team were filled.

Though hailing from different islands, members of Team Hawaii will now train together as much as possible under coach Rainos Hayes, readying themselves for the International Surfing Association's World Junior Championships, tentatively set for early December in Tahiti.

"This is the closest thing surfing has to the Olympics," Hayes said. "It's very prestigious. Maybe not as recognized in Hawaii as I would like, but it's definitely held in very high regard in other places in the world like Australia and Brazil, where surfing is a national sport."

In surfing, Hawaii regularly participates as a region independent from the mainland U.S. Last year, 16 national teams participated in the ISA Championships; Hawaii tied for fifth, the Mainland U.S. tied for 10th and Brazil won the team title.

With only four spots in each of three divisions (junior men, boys and girls) making up the Hawaii contingent -- and some of those already taken by top performers in earlier trials -- the atmosphere was charged yesterday despite the lack of big surf.

Kauai's Gavin Gillette, a Team Hawaii member last year, was among those needing an outstanding performance yesterday to make this year's team -- and he came through, winning the junior men's (18 years and under) final and taking one of only two spots still open within the division.

Key to Gillette's win and subsequent re-qualification was a 9.33-point (out of 10 maximum) score he managed on his last ride after successfully battling for the set wave with Kaimi Hui Hui.

"I had a lot of pressure, (the standings were) really tight," Gillette, 17, said. "Kaimi, he's like my good friend, but I had to snake him because (the wave) was either (an opportunity to qualify for) him or me."

On his drive to again be a part of Team Hawaii, Gillette added: "Usually with surfing, you're doing it for yourself. But (at the ISA Championships) it's a team effort and it's really cool to see all the other countries (represented). Holding your flag, waving it and running up and down the beach is really fun."

Gillette joined Ola Eleogram, who had already qualified by winning both of the earlier trials events, and Hank Gaskell, who received an injury wildcard on this year's team after getting hurt just before the 2003 ISA Championships. Shane Valiere, who placed second yesterday, took the final junior men's spot, while Hui Hui was forced to settle for first alternate.

Similarly for the girls (19-under) division, competitors yesterday were surfing for only two slots since Lani Hunter and Carissa Moore had previously locked up positions with a win and a runner-up finish each in the first two trials.

Oahu's Tory Titcomb took one of those slots by winning the girls final. Leilani Gryde placed second but had to settle for first alternate, because Gia Fontany's third-place result was enough to gain her the last position on the team.

"This is great," said the 19-year-old Titcomb, who tied with Eleogram as the highest-placing (third) individual performer from Hawaii last year. "I love to represent our state. We go as a team, it's total unity."

The boys (16-under) division was the only one in which all four positions were still up for grabs.

Torrey Meister won the division final and took the top qualifier's spot. He was joined by Clay Marzo and Casey Brown, and finally Tonino Benson, who had to surf an extra 20-minute heat and defeat Dege O'Connell (first alternate) after both were still tied in the standings after the final.

According to Hayes, Hawaii has never won the team title at the ISA Championships. In part, he attributes this to other national teams bringing in their "very best" surfers to participate -- including professionals -- while Hawaii exclusively participates with amateurs.

"But we still have a shot (to win)," said Hayes, "because Hawaii's amateurs are some of the best (at their age) in the world. ... I concentrate on getting our guys to put out the very best product they can. And if I can get them to do that, our chances of winning are very good."

Wright dies: Local longboarding legend Reynolds "Big Dude" Wright died on March 8. Fellow legend and best friend China Uemura said Wright was honored with a large gathering on March 20 at Keaulana Beach on Oahu's West Side, where his ashes were spread.


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