File-Up Close-Dustin Cuizon
Dustin Cuizon gets ready to set his place in the professional-surfing pecking order.
Taylor Knox (1988), Kalani Robb (1993 and 1994), Andy Irons (1996), Bruce Irons (1997), Mike Losness (1998), and Fred Patacchia (1999)-all past NSSA National Open Men’s champs. It’s a lot to live up to especially considering the expectations are placed on winning one title in one competition-albeit one of the most important contests in a young American surfer’s life, with a trophy that’s more like signing a deal for a future professional career.
At seventeen, Dustin Cuizon just signed that contract. Surfing flawlessly at the recent Nationals in perfect Lower Trestles surf, he held off a charge by Dane Reynolds to take the coveted division and topped it off by winning the explorer juniors’ division as well. With that win he became the first NSSA competitor ever to take titles in the boys’, juniors’, and men’s divisions-his five titles put him second only to Bobby Martinez in overall championships. That’s great, but is this extra-quiet kid from the O’ahu’s Westside ready for life after the NSSA?
In quintessential Cuizon form, he simply says, “I’m just cruising, surfing-no pressure. I’ve got to finish off school first, one more year, then I’ll turn pro after that.” Ever since he burst on the scene and won his first NSSA National boys’ title in 1998, he’s been that way-quiet. “Yup, everybody’s been saying that I just cruise, and I hardly say anything-it really doesn’t matter.” Dustin’s a complex surfer with a simple lifestyle and attitude. He really just keeps it mellow-until he gets in a heat. Ewa Beach on O’ahu’s Westside isn’t the easiest place to grow up in and it’s where, according to Cuizon, many great surfers have been sidetracked. “It Ewa Beach made me think that I can have a good career if I just stay away from trouble,” said Cuizon. “I look up to the other guys who’ve had a chance to become good pro surfers, but they lost their chance because of drugs and stuff. I just try to remember that if I stay away from it, I have a pretty good chance.”
He’s like any other kid who wants to finish his last year of high school, go to his prom, fish, and watch chicken fights. Oh yeah, chicken fights. “We have some chickens at home that we’ve raised, and we fight ’em,” says Cuizon. All cruising aside, Cuizon’s been ready to strap in for the professional surfing chicken fight since he began competing-a simple goal that he and his sponsors are prepping for. As clichà‡ as it sounds, he’ll never change his quiet demeanor-he wants to let his surfing do the talking. “When I first asked Dustin as a kid what his goals and aspirations were,” says Dave Riddle, the Hawai’i Volcom team manager and Dustin’s coach. “He told me that one of them right away was to be in the WCT. A lot of kids from Hawai’i say this because you want to hear it, but they travel a little bit, and once they get road weary, it’s like, ‘Brah, I don’t want to go anywhere, I want to stay home.’ Dustin’s been good about his travel-he’s gone all over the world. He loves home, and he’s a local boy-born and raised with heavy roots and all-but he can travel, and that’s another thing you have to factor into it. The WQS is a brutal road. I’m trying not to burn him out as a kid. This year everybody’s going, ‘Well, what do you think? Do we send him to Europe for some of those ‘QSs?’ And I said, ‘No, we bring him back, let him graduate from high school, and then next year, as I told him, he’s not flying home after Huntington the U.S. Open in July-he’s going to Europe.’ And he’s ready. And I think he appreciates that part of what I’m doing for him. He’s allowing me to let him be a kid, but at the same time we have these goals and understand that there’s a timeline we’re gonna follow.”
Finishing high school means another year in the NSSA-another year to hone his skills, “cruise,” and win another title. Mike Losness, open men’s champ in 1998, alsso won his title a year early. “First of all, it gave me more confidence,” said Losness. “As far as affecting my career, I was riding for Rip Curl. I think that since they saw me win that contest, it gave them hope to keep sponsoring me. It was good for me, because it was incentive for them to want to keep paying me and give me enough money to go out and do the WQS-if I could win that contest Nationals, maybe I could win more. It helped me for sure.”
In the industry, a lot of momentum for a young career, whether it’s good or bad, is gauged on this contest on that day-a one-heat blunder on Dustin’s part could’ve thrown off years of hard work. “That’s one of the lame parts about winning it. People expect you to do stuff, but it’s just a contest-you could get lucky,” says Losness. “I kind of got lucky, and I think that people play it up a little more than they should.” “I think it’s huge,” says Volcom’s Riddle, “because whether it’s right or wrong, it the Nationals sets the bar for the industry to pick who’s the guy coming out. Lately the guys who have come out and won it have gone on into the WQS and even into the ‘CT-especially the last five or six years. It’s enormous, because it’s one of the major stepping stones. It’s the biggest stepping stone in America. We’ve been in this process for a while, and he’s one of the kids we Volcom picked to say, ‘Yeah, after Bruce Irons, we think it’ll be Dustin.'”
On the other hand, the molding of Dustin Cuizon hasn’t always been perfect. Around the time of last year’s Nationals, everyone noticed a change in his stance-it had widened drastically as he was going through an awkward change in body and board size. Still dominant as always and making the finals, he was ironing out what is now one of the most technically perfect styles around. “He just had to bring it in a bit and he did,” said Riddle. “Dustin’s really good because he listens and takes corrective criticism pretty well. We talked about the mechanics and the stance, and that he had to bring the front foot in a little bit. I like the front foot just a little wider, at most, with the width of one’s shoulders. I talked to him about that a bit, and he just gradually started working on it. I would see him coming out of the water, and I would go, ‘Well, it looks like you’re bringing it back a little bit.’ And all of a sudden, going into the World Games, I had a talk with him before he left, and he just adapted to it real well. I was real pleased with how he pulled it off this year.”
Is he ready now? If you saw his performance at this year’s Nationals versus Dane Reynolds, you’d say yes. Pulling off a perfect ten and a backside 360, Reynolds seemed unbeatable. However, in traditional Dustin form, he made the absolute most out of Lowers’ rights, making fluid turns and vertical snaps in what would seem like unhittable sections. “I was super impressed,” says Riddle. “Dustin won two events, which is unheralded and unheard of-only a couple of guys have done that. He did that with one more year remaining. That fact was pretty impressive to me. The level of surfing was as good as I’ve seen it in a long time.”
Sure Dustin has another year of Nationals left, but many couldn’t believe what they saw in Reynolds versus Cuizon-an intense, competitive rivalry created in one contest. “There were lots of waves, and everyone was pushing each other to another level,” says Dustin. Until next year’s Nationals and his abrupt entry into professional life, look for the kid to quietly get even stronger, “I’ll probably just go home and train better,” he says. “Practice in all kinds of different waves and sizes. Just charge this year.”