Kaua’i has become a hotbed of surfing’s recent surgence

KAUAI – Blame it on Andy Irons, his brother Bruce, Roy Powers and Rochelle Ballard. Blame it on Sunny Garcia, Margo Oberg and Titus Kinimaka. Or just blame it on the lure of beauty, fluidity and mystique embracing what is popularly known as the Sport of Kings.

Everything we’ve recently seen and read, in surf magazines, Sports Illustrated, in action flicks and in documentaries, points to one inspiriting fact: The world-wide magnitude of surfing is ever-increasing in the new millennium, and one of its hotbeds is here on Kaua’i.

Irons, on the cover of a recent edition of Surfer Magazine, leads the 2002 WCT Tour in points. Ballard played stunt double in the surf film “Blue Crush,” and is also spicing up the women’s pro tour with fellow Kauaian Keala Kennely. Kinimaka and Laird Hamilton pioneered big wave surfing on the island. Oberg was named one of Sports Illustrated’s top 100 most influential female athletes of the 20th Century (along with her unprecedented eight world titles). Each are Kauaian, and each play a role in the sport’s recent success.

One major surgence is the arrival of women in surfing. Kaua’i’s contest at Prince Kuhio in Poipu last weekend had a total of 27 women and required 4 heats to test them all. In years past, there were so few girls that they were forced into competition within the boys divisions.

Times have changed. The movie “Blue Crush” didn’t turn girls on to surfing, it was the girls who inspired the making of the movie, which reflects an ever-growing phenomenon.

Hawaii has always been at the forefront of the sport.

Duke Kahanamoku and George Freeth paved the road, surf legends like Oberg and Kinimaka continued it, and the new crop: Keala Kennely, Kaipo Jauquinas, Braden Diaz, Roy Powers and the Irons brothers, among others, carry the torch today.

But the future, as seen in the NSSA (National Scholastic Surfing Association) and HSF (Hawaii Surfing Federation) leagues, is what will seemingly enhance the sport in terms of its stigma and popularity.

The NSSA was founded over 25 years ago to promote scholastic achievement in the sport of surfing. Students must have a 2.0 or better grade point average to compete.

Today most of the major west coast colleges – Pepperdine, the Univeristy of California at Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and others – harbor surfing teams and will soon begin giving scholarships to promising athletes. Education is not only becoming a factor in surfing, it is providing windows of opportunity.

The new crop of NSSA surfer, both on Kaua’i and throughout the Hawaiian islands, are begging to make their mark on what has become a highly competitive national circuit.

In the recent NSSA event at Prince Kuhio Park, Kaua’i’s Andrianna Mendivil placed a respectable third place behind National Champion Leilani Gryde (1st), and Shay Hodges of Oahu. Bethany Hamilton (featured on the Channel 2 news with Kurt Matthews and Leslie Wilcox) took 4th in the Women’s Explorer division, Alana Blanchard took 5th, Ashley Fagerstedt took sixth – Fagerstedt recently placed sixth in the Women’s Open at the National Finals held June 27 in San Clemente, Calif.

Another local girl, Alana Brennan (also HSF State Champion), finished 5th in that same contest while competing in the Women’s Explorers division and she placed 1st at the Hawaii State Finals. Sena Seramur has won State championships, and placed in the finals at nationals.

Of course, Kaua’i’s boys have been in the forefront of NSSA competition for some time, beginning with Andy and Bruce Irons – each a member of pre-hyped Nationals competitions.

Surfer Magazine touts Hawaii’s male surfers as being in “the deep end of the pool.” This includes Dustin Cuizon, Kekoa Bacalso, Hank Gaskell, Kai Barger and Jo-Jo Florence, to name a few from the other islands. And Kauaians Shane Valiere (5th in Open Boys in 2002 Nationals), Gavin Gillette, Sean McCoy, Casey Satterfield and Tyler Newton, among others, are each up and comers in National competition.

How important are the NSSA national competitions?

In a recent issue, SurferMagazine titled the country-wide NSSA event “Draft Day.”

“Nationals is the marquis showcase for the hottest young rippers in the country…it has essentially become surfing’s own version of draft day.”

More and more young Kauaians will compete on draft day and will further prove their legitimacy in the world of surfing. They will also set a new trend in surfing, not yet defined, in a stage of a sport extending far beyond its current popularity.

Simply put, this is only just beginning.

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