Into The Wild; The Hunt Continues But The Pack Is Culled

“It is a sound, a sound made up of ten thousand little sounds. You scarcely noticed it at first-it sunk into your consciousness.” –Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

The steady hum of the ocean… The primal grunts of mammals and animals and the voices of thousands… The chaotic pulse of tribal drumming and booming music… And the sum of it all, constantly teetering between cacophony and harmony…

Dusty Payne

The Jungle is alive, my friends. THE JUNGLE IS ALIVE!

Um, a-hem… excuse me, I got a little worked up there for a minute and thought I was Upton Sinclair. Deep breath, OK, welcome back to Transworld’s ‘Jungle’ and the 2008 Honda U.S. Open of Surfing presented by O’Neill.

Things picked up today right where they left off, with the few remaining heats of the Round of 96, followed by the entirety of the Round of 48. The early heats saw glassy conditions and pulsing peaks off the pier’s sandbar (although it was a bit closed out—but hey, this is a beachbreak), while the afternoon’s competition got significantly windier (as always expected) but it was ridable and rippable the whole way through. Here are a few highlights.

The most explosive heat of the morning (and today’s remaining Round of 96) was probably between Chris Ward, Jordy Smith, Ian Walsh, and Nils Schweizer—although the action was primarily between Wardo and Jordy. It was a tug of war between the California veteran and the South African ‘CT rookie, but experience paid off (as did a big frontside air), and Wardo pushed through. “I haven’t surfed Huntington since last year, and I’m just hapy to have good swell,” said Ward, in between slapping people five and making conversation with people passing by during our interview (we started and stopped like five times). “No real strategy here,” he said. “I just came to surf and that’s what I’m going to do.”

He did have an interesting start to the heat, though. “I actually didn’t know how long I had until my heat started. I was freesurfing to the north of the pier when the starting horn blew.” So he quickly paddled between the pilings over to the south side, snagged a jersey, popped into the lineup, and almost immediately into a couple waves.

Jordy wasn’t in top shape, thanks to a ping-pong injury (yes, that’s correct: a ping pong injury) that left him sporting a neon-taped ankle. “I didn’t have my feet that heat,” he said, “I couldn’t really go backside because of the pressure it put on my foot,” which also probably contributed to his elimination later on in the day in Round of 48.

Another nail biter came this afternoon between Huntington hero Brett Simpson, San Clemente Slasher Dane Gudauskas, and Floridians Evan Geiselman and Jesse Heilman. The 14-year-old Geiselman started out like a bat out of hell, tearing into frontside lefts, while throwing down carves, floaters, and airs. The media tent was alive with murmurs of an upset.

But in the final minutes, Simpson, who’d been quiet early in the heat, sprang to life with a long ride off of a reform, hacking and smacking it all the way to the inside for a whopping 9.87. Meanwhile, Dane weighed in heavy to secure a spot in second. But Brett held onto the spotlight by blasting a lofty frontside air for another 9.0, and paddled in for the remaining seconds of the heat. As the announcer put it, “his work was done.”

Things change quickly. Simpson catapulted from fourth to first in a matter of seconds. And just as quickly as the young East Coaster’s hold on the lead was cemented, it was shattered. But simply making it this far, the 14-year-old left with his chin up. “Of course, I wanted to make it,” Geiselman said. “But I knew those guys could drop scores at any time. I wasn’t feeling secure out there at all… Just to make a couple heats out there, with that type of competition, I was really psyched.”

And if it makes you feel any better, Evan, Simpson wasn’t feeling too secure out there either. “I was stressed in the beginning, but I was just trying to stay in a positive mindset,” said the 23-year-old. “Two years ago, I would’ve probably given up or fallen apart. But I feel like I’m learning a lot, as I get older and smarter about competing. It was crazy, though, ‘cause I didn’t have a decent score until at least 10 minutes into the heat.”

The last Men’s heat of the day brought things to a nice crescendo, featuring San Clemente’s Nate Yeomans, young Aussie star Julian Wilson, German Marlon Lipke, and Wardo in his second showing. It was a battle royale most of the way through, with the lead was passed between the group, but a turning point took place when Yeomans worked a frontside and then connected to the inside backside and all the way through, which he ended with an air reverse.

In the waning seconds, Wardo (looking very determined) punted a sizable air (a ‘frontside 3’) but it wasn’t enough to push Yeomans or Lipke out of the leading slots, and ended his campaign at The Open this year.

“The names in that heat speak for themselves,” Yeomans said after the win. “Wardo and I are from the same town, and he was one of my favorite surfers growing up. Julian’s the ‘Young Gun’, and Marlon’s always solid. So it feels epic to win that one.”

But Yeomans and the rest of the remaining pack must remain vigilant. We’re not even into the quarters yet. And as we all know, it’s a real jungle out there. —Mike Fish