An Orange County team member took a crucial fall during his heat. “Hey Vinnie,” yelled Oceanside’s Jamey Stone to Laguna’s Vinnie De La Pena, “O.C. stands for overconfident, and S.D. stands for sure delivery!”
On November 1, over a year of practice and planning came together for what the creators call “The Game.” The brainchild of Brad Gerlach, The Game (or the National Surfing League), is a contest with a new format never before seen in surfing, where individual surfers work together as a team. The concept is an attempt to emulate the formula used by the NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB–to pit two teams against each other.
In this format, a team is only as strong as its weakest surfer, and while individual performances can boost a team’s point total, it’s absolutely a group effort. This is certainly a revolutionary idea in a sport that, for decades, has prided itself as being individual–as opposed to team-oriented.
Proponents of The Game boast about the format’s ability to draw a crowd into the competition, giving them something to really root for. This new format allows for hometown rivalries and personality matchups. For example, you could have Australia versus the United States, or the East Side of Santa Cruz versus the West Side, or tall guys versus short. The combinations are limitless.
This premier event was held at San Diego County’s Cardiff Reef in one- to two-foot surf and featured a classic Southern California rivalry–Orange County’s best pros against San Diego County’s. The two rosters included some of the surfing world’s most famous faces. Orange County’s team included Mike Losness, Mike Todd, Pat O’Connell, Dino Andino, Chris Drummy, Brett Simpson, Jay Larson, and Hans Hagen; and San Diego fielded a particularly star-studded roster with Rob Machado, Taylor Knox, Jason Bennett, Benji Weatherley, Saxon Boucher, Dean Randazzo, Dane Johnson, Brad Gerlach, and Che Stang.
With the crowd seated on two sets of bleachers–one behind San Diego’s bench and the other behind Orange County–cheering and heckling was strongly encouraged. Between the two sets of spectators sat the judges, the mouthy duo of Cameron Steele and Greg Tomlinson announcing, a D.J., and referee Witt Rowlett who monitored the proceedings.
The entire contest runs just over three hours, with eight heats (referred to as “quarters”) each featuring four members of one team. In this format, there are never members of opposing teams in the water at the same time, so each team of four surfers is encouraged to work together to spread around the wave count, and help struggling teammates get the waves they need. The heats are eighteen minutes and each team is allowed a coach in the water and a pre-set number of two-minute timeouts in case the waves go flat. Each surfer’s top two waves are added together, and these numbers are tallied as a team score after each quarter. This way, the last team to surf knows exactly what it needs to score to go for the win and make for an exciting finale.
And in the initial showdown it couldn’t have been more exciting. Thanks to big scores from Dino Andino and Pat O’Connell, in the fourth quarter, San Diego’s squad found itself needing a total of 49 points, or just over eleven and a half per surfer. Luckily for San Diego, the waves cooperated and Machado, Knox, Randazzo, and Stang took care of business. Together they combined for a total score of 61.7 and an overall S.D. victory of 209.4 to 194.9.
Though the format is still new, and The Game’s future is still somewhat uncertain, you could see in the eyes of the Orange County team that a rematch was eminent, which is exactly what Gerlach and company were hoping for.
For more information, check out the official Website of the game at nslgame.com.