Check Out: Chris Ropero, Ryan Hipwood and Ryan Augenstein

Chris Ropero

Age: 18

Height: 5'10″

Weight: 165 lbs.

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida

Sponsors: Matix, DVS, Smith, Xcel, Dan Taylor Surfboards

Matix, DVS, Dan Taylor, Xcel, Oakley, OAM, and Surf Station

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Chris Ropero approaches every day like it's Easter Sunday–hopping around as happy as can be, looking for new-experience eggs to open up. Ropero has a genuine love for surf, a love for people, and just a love for life in general–a rare trifecta that is becoming rarer in today's super-corpo surf landscape, where groms are pro by ten, cover boys by twelve, and jaded and burnt out by fifteen. Chris is a true throwback to grommetdom.

At first these traits have some people thinking he's a bit out in left field. And he is. But he's not out there stomping on the daisies–he's picking 'em, smelling 'em, and becoming intoxicated on 'em. His infectious youthful exuberance rubs off on all who meet him. The statement is always the same after someone's first encounter with Chris: “He's the nicest, most polite kid in the world.” And he can surf, too! Last year was a breakout year for Ropero. He virtually came out of nowhere to take the junior men's titles at both the ESA Eastern Championships and the Florida State Championships–thus keeping alive the tradition of East Coast champs who hail from St. Augustine.

This past winter, Chris spent his first season on the North Shore of O'ahu. The thick December crowds didn't bother the happy-go-lucky Chris one bit. “I was just so stoked to be out in the water with Occy, Shane Beschen, Mick Fanning, and Parko,” said Chris. “Those guys are my heroes!” If Chris keeps up all his hard work and the good results continue to follow, it will only be a matter of time before he becomes some groms' hero. –I.P. Freely

Ryan Hipwood

Age: 18

Height: 5'8″

Weight: 171 lbs.

Hometown: Gold Coast, Australia

Sponsors: Quiksilver, Surf Hardware, Watercooled, On Fire Surfboards, Kinesys sun cream.

Hungry Hungry Hippo? An obvious moniker. Completely unoriginal, mind you, yet irresistible, and in stark contrast to the kiddies' board game where mini ostrich eggs are gobbled up by hyper-excited snapping hippopotami. Regardless, Ryan “Hippo” Hipwood is doing some snapping of his own. He's another of the über-frothers spilling forth from the Gold Coast's overflowing talent pool and cutting his teeth on the junior circuit. Bloody hell! How many more can there be?

“More and more every year!” says Hippo approvingly. “There're so many young kids around at the moment. Plus there're guys that move here because they know how good the waves have gotten.” Yup, Troy Brooks, big-wave freak Paul “Antman” Paterson, air-show whiz Craig Wharton, and junior assailant Bede Durbidge are just four Aussie names from a swelling list of recent transplants all drawn to one thing–the Super Bank. It seems like more arrive with every planeload.

“There're so many surfers in the one spot, and you don't really see that at many other places,” adds Hippo. “But you also get to know your heroes and get to surf with them. Joel, Dean, and Mick–to be able to surf with them and hang out is pretty special. Then there're a million others coming up under them.”

From his parents' digs atop prestigious Currumbin Hill, Hippo can see it all. A good set of binoculars allows him an eagle's eyeline direct to Snapper in the south. “When you see the backwash hitting the rocks, that's when you know it's on.” To the leftt is Currumbin's creek entrance and jet-ski access to the empty play zones in the north.

“Tomorrow I start training at the (Surfing Australia's) new gym set up at Casurina,” says Hippo. “Boxing, swimming, yoga–I got a scholarship.” The kid's hungry.–J.J.


Ryan Augenstein

Age: 21

Height: 5'9″

Weight: 160 lbs.

Hometown: East Side, Santa Cruz, California

Sponsors: Reef, Al Merrick, Santa Cruz Surf Shop, Sack-Up

The other day I was reading a Santa Cruz newspaper when I came across the personal ads and read the following:

Athletic, muscular power surfer looking for sponsor to support a future career of surfing the heaviest Northern California waves possible. Prefers breaks anywhere up and down the coast and long walks to the more isolated ones. Current lifeguard in South Monterey Bay, charging is mandatory, especially with tow partner Anthony Tashnick. Any interested parties can find me destroying waves all over town.

That actually wasn't written, but if it were, that's what it would probably have said–and Reef would have been the one to answer it. Ryan's a low-key kid who recently got 100-percent backing from Reef to pursue what he does best–charge. Young guys like Ryan are rare. He's a power surfer in the truest meaning of the sense, who paddles out religiously according to friends. “He surfs all day every day no matter what,” says photographer Dave Nelson. “His surfing does the talking.” Young watermen are rare, and it's nice to see a young kid see his future early and go after it.

“Now that Ryan has backing, look out for this kid,” says Omar Etcheverry. “He's gonna be showing the world his talent and determination in huge surf.”–Checkwood