Eighteen minutes into a 30-minute competition window, Josh Kerr is still bobbing in the water.
The other two surfers in his
Kerr remains patient, his board seesawing over the cold, building Pacific.
His original plan for his Round 3 heat was to catch at least 10 waves and build a high enough score from the judges he would be able to skip Friday's rounds and advance directly to Saturday's competition.
It wasn't so much that Kerr wanted to skip a day of surfing; it's that he resides in Carlsbad and summer traffic is brutal.
But he isn't finding a wave to his liking. With a playing surface as unpredictable as the ocean, surfing is a sport of adjustment. So he waits.
Finally, he rises and cuts into a cresting swell, turning his board so sharply it looks as if he's attached to it by straps. Cutting toward the top of the wave, he jumps into a move that's called a front side 360, which earns Kerr a score of 8.5, the highest of the heat.
Another score like that might vault him up a place or even two, but he doesn't find another good wave to ride and finishes third. All it means is he will surf again Friday.
After paddling in, Kerr signs autographs and takes pictures before walking toward the showers, all with a smile on his face.
Five years ago, being in a heat with subpar waves would have bummed Kerr out, maybe even made him mad. Why should he be punished for something out of his control?
In 2009, Kerr didn't place higher than ninth in any World Championship Tour (WCT) event and finished the year 32nd in the standings — too low to qualify for a place on the 2010 tour.
Which was perfect.
Kerr moved to Bali and hatched a plan in which he would compete in just 11 handpicked WCT events. It was about half his normal schedule, but Kerr would surf where he wanted to surf, qualifying be damned. Even with poor results, he wouldn't try to enter more events to give himself a better shot of making the cut. If Kerr did well, good. If not, the Tour could wait.
Six months in Bali might as well have been six years. He was filming a profile movie — a promotional highlight video entitled "Kerrazy Kronicles" — and surfing consistent waves whenever he wanted. Ferries would shuttle Kerr from small island to small island, with no one else around to see the joy that came from surfing for fun.
"That was what changed everything," Kerr said. "I was kind of at that point, I was 25 when that happened so I had already been competing for eight years. It was just nice to have that year of change, just doing surfing for the passion and love for it. No numbers, just enjoying it."
The numbers still came, though. Kerr won two events in 2010, including one in his native Australia, and placed second in another. He was almost looking forward to a couple years off but earned a spot on the 2011 tour without really trying to qualify.
Kerr finished in the top nine of the tour standings the next three consecutive seasons. This year, he's in 10th.
"I just put myself in such a good frame of mind and came to the Tour really fresh and excited," Kerr said. "I was just so pumped coming off a year hunting amazing waves all over the world. I was ready to compete again. "
The waves at Huntington Beach are about as inconsistent as they come. They break near the pier, sometimes left, sometimes right.
Other events have steady, long rolling waves. At Huntington Beach, the surfers have to guess where to go.
It's something surfers have no control over. Kerr's fine with that.
The spontaneity of it all is fun again.