Surfers battle at NSSA West Coast Championships
HUNTINGTON BEACH - In the shadow of the Huntington Beach pier lies the famous surf spot known as Southside.
Some of the more choice waves around are just a couple of hundred yards away from where weathered wooden beams hold up countless numbers of tourists, snack shacks and locals.
Like many Huntington Beach residents, 15-year-old Jake Saenz started honing his surfing skills in this famous stretch of water when he was still in elementary school.
As a member of the National Scholastic Surfing Association, Saenz, now a freshman at Huntington Beach High, joined hundreds of other amateur surfers as they converged on Southside this weekend to compete in the annual NSSA West Coast Championships.
“I surf here everyday with my surf coach … It’s a lot of practice for events like this,” Saenz said. “It just helps me a lot with the confidence.”
With the weather slightly overcast Saturday and the swells coming in at 4-5 feet, Saenz finished first in heat No. 1 of the Open Juniors 15-and under semifinals. The top two in each of the two heats scheduled advanced to surf in the finals on Sunday.
Saenz, who is ranked 17th in the NSSA Southwest Open Junior standings, went head-to-head against other top-notch surfers, such as 10th-ranked Skip McCullough, who placed third in the semifinals heat.
As the heat was coming to an end, Saenz was holding a slight point advantage before he caught a nice wave that put him in the lead for good.
“I was just trying to find a backup score, and I found a little left (side) that came through with a couple of sections and I was like, ‘Alright, it’s time to go to town,' " Saenz said. “I got two or three good turns on the wave and I kicked out feeling good and it was a good enough score to keep on going through the event.”
His score of 12.43 was good enough to earn him the top qualifying spot as well as his first trip to an NSSA event final in 2011.
“I took a year off last year, so I wasn’t all there with the competitive results. But as (this) year went on, I started to get more confident,” Saenz said. “I’d be stoked to win this event.”