San Clemente wonder kid Kolohe Andino is not used to coming from behind. But as he arrived on the beach at Salt Creek amidst daybreak for the final Prime Series event of the season, there he was, sitting a distant 2,138 points behind series leader Ian Crane. "I was in sixth going into the final day, I didn't do the other two events, and they drop two. So no matter what I did it was going to count," Kolohe said. He continued, "I didn't know that whoever won would win. I just wanted to win so whatever would happen would happen."
Both Andino and Crane were on point the entire day; Ian dominated heats as the overall standings leader is expected to, and Kolohe was putting on a show that only one of the best under 16 surfers in the world can. But there seemed to be a fired-up determination in Andino's surfing throughout the competition. "I felt like I was surfing as good as I could in every heat," Kolohe remarked.
After Kolohe busted a fin out of his board in the semifinals it was up to a backup board for the final heat, which consisted of Taylor Thorne, Ian Crane, aforementioned Andino, and youngster Connor Coffin. The backup board didn't affect things for Kolohe, as he didn't miss a beat. "That one ended up working good too," Kolohe said. "It didn't really play too much into it."
That being the case with Andino's board, there was a lot riding in that finals heat: Thorne, Crane, and Andino each had their top three results of the Prime season as a first, a second, and a third. The overall champion would be determined by the top four results, meaning whoever won the final heat would be crowned champ as well.
San Clemente's Ian Crane was the first to open an account with a 7.17 and quickly got to a commanding lead. But like Kolohe said, that backup board didn't factor in one bit. He got in the game with a left for a 5.17, then continued with a 7 and finished off with a 7.83 to wrangle the lead away from Crane. With the inconsistency of a south swell, and being interfered with on a left that might have given him the score he needed, Crane was left needing a 7+ scoring wave that never made an appearance the rest of the heat. When the final buzzer sounded, Andino skyrocketed past Thorne and Crane in the standings to 1st, giving him the Boys U16 Prime Series title.
In the Boys U18 division, it was a surfer with nothing to lose and everything to gain who stole the show at Creek. Heading into that final, things wouldn't be such a battle for the Boys U18 title though. Manhattan Beach's Dane Zaun was the Boys U18 standings leader, and the only one in contention for the title to make the finals. But Hawaiian Nathan Carvalho, who won the previous Prime event at Church Beach, had something to say at Salt Creek.
The Salt Creek event would only be Carvalho's third Prime event, which meant he wouldn't be anywhere near contention for the Series championship. But damned if he wasn't going to run with his momentum from the Church Beach contest: "It gave me a big confidence boost. I felt really good, I've been training for this contest, and I was looking for a strong result here."
Nathan's focused game plan exuded throughout the day, and in his quarterfinals heat he kicked things off with a right that allowed him to throw three man hacks on his forehand. The judges noticed the all-out approach in that first wave and graciously awarded him the 10 that it deserved. Nathan said this about the 10, "Right when I got that 10 I felt really good." He continued, "I just felt good right when I woke up. I felt energized, and thought maybe today might be the day."
Sunday would be the day for Carvalho, as he got a backside barrel in the finals to start things off. Dane Zaun made a valiant effort in the finals, but came up just .83 of a point shy. Seeing how Zaun already had the title in the bag at this point, Nathan was surfing for himself and determined to make his mark: "I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so I guess that's how it went."
As for the rest of the Prime Series regular season titles, Emmy Merrill came away with the Girls U16 title, Kanoa Igarashi clinched the Boys U14, and Courtney Conlogue (who won every event except this one) came away with the Girls U18 championship.
With that the Prime Series looks to a man-on-man championship event at the Oceanside Harbor on May 30th and 31st (think of it like a playoffs of sorts). The top 75-percent rated surfers in each division will be invited and they will battle in man-on-man heats from at least the semifinals on.
Thoughts on this first year? Greg Cruse had this to say: "The best surfers in the West have really embraced the series and enjoy the format." It's fair to say that the first season was a success, and look for the Prime Series to roll out to the rest of the country and make it available to the best surfers in all of the Surfing America member organizations in the near future. Visions of a true nationwide USA Surf Team and Championship are becoming evident.
The biggest achievement in this first season though has to be the surfing that ensued when the West's best are pushed to their limits. As Greg Cruse put it, "It's really brought out the best surfing in these guys." And from the surfing that went down on Sunday, you can't deny that. -Ryan Brower
FOR FULL RESULTS AND NEWS ON THE WSA PRIME SERIES, HEAD TO WSAPrime.org.