Watch: The World’s Best Grom Contest Final (Young Guns!)
The kids are very much alright.
It’s a strange scene.
Tanks roll by a few hundred feet away, kicking up clouds of dust from California’s overcooked soil. The sound of bombs being tested in the less-than-distant hills shakes through the air. Soldiers march down the beach, with more soldiers limply draped around their necks. Enter: not the smell of napalm, but nine of the world’s best 18-and-under surfers.
Marco Mignot, Rio Waida, Kyuss King, Barron Mamiya, Kael Walsh, Cody Young, Malakai Martinez, Sandy Whittaker and Sammy Pupo are standing on the beach at a fun little wedge just outside of Oceanside, California.
No priority. No jerseys. No jockeying. Just raw surfing.
And the judges? Zeke Lau for the rail. Mikey Wright for the airs. And Jeremy Flores for the combos. They’re three of the world’s finest in each discipline.
None of this feels like a typical surf contest. Black Sabbath is blaring through a small speaker that someone had stowed away in a backpack. A few of the kids are playing catch and/or pegging each other with a football while waiting to surf their next heat. Everyone is taking turns scaring the shit out of each other via a slyly positioned bullhorn, and the honourable Mikey Wright just offered to tack an additional point onto any of the competitor’s scores if they approach the two-pack of young women strutting down the beach.
So, really, it feels less like a surf contest and more like a surf trip with some friends. It’s just that the “friends” happen to be nine of the world’s best young surfers and one of them is going to leave with a lot of money and lot more bragging rights.
Combos, combos and combos within combos.
The surfing was enough to dismantle even the most drastic and delusional of egos. Airs as tweaked as they were tech. Rail turns far beyond the adolescent weight class.
Barron won Mikey Wright’s approval for the best air surfer of the event. Rail judge Zeke Lau gave the nod to Sammy Pupo, and Jeremy Flores knighted Rio Waida for combos.
The final. The result of months of great surfing. Sammy Pupo, Marco Mignot, Sandy Whittaker and Rio Waida all posted Instagram clips that were hand-picked by Mikey Wright, Ezekiel Lau and Jeremy Flores. Then they had to survive a round of public voting. Then a trip to California and four rounds of surfing, judged by Mikey, Zeke and Jeremy. The culmination of it all was an hour-long freesurf with no criteria. Whoever surfs the best wins.
Sammy started strong. Sandy started stronger. Marco started strongest.
He opened with a few turns and an air, then settled into a pace of a good wave every few minutes. With time disappearing, he was all but chaired up the beach.
But then, Rio.
He had a few waves in the final. Nothing special, though, until he took the liberty of putting together one of the best combos of the event in the last thirty seconds.
The judges gathered. The tension built. Then Mikey Wright paddled out with a check for $10K and handed it to Mister Waida.
Rio caught a wave in and the feels came out. He was excited. Then in disbelief. Then “so happy.” then grateful. And finally, a mix of ‘em all. Everyone offered him a hug, a high-five or even a tear. It was an emotional moment, and in the best way possible.
“I liked surfing with the best kids my age from all over the world… And winning,” laughed Rio.