Mike Sapp stuffed a handcrafted clump of raw fish into his mouth just about every 43 seconds.
Tuna, yellowtail, shrimp, sea eel, whitefish, scallops, California roll and cucumber roll--62 of the sushi delicacies in all--systematically slid down his throat in a span of 45 minutes.
"He is just pumping it in," scoffed John Stars of Hermosa Beach. "You can't compete with maniacs."
Sapp, his throat bulging as he swallowed, lubricated the battered passage with swift swigs of Japanese Sapporo beer. A buddy mopped his brow with a napkin soaked in ice water and tapped a cadence on Sapp's head with chopsticks.
"GO, MIKE, GO!"
Sapp, a 21-year-old Redondo Beach carpenter, was well on his way to becoming the first sushi-eating champion in Hermosa Beach. He was also on his way to becoming sick to his stomach.
"I feel full," said Sapp, returning from the men's room and clutching a $100 check from Sushi Sei, a Pier Avenue sushi bar that sponsored the contest.
Sapp and 21 other sushi zealots from throughout the South Bay and beyond paid $15 for a seat at the black enamel sushi bar Saturday night--and a chance to become part of the South Bay sushi fad, an increasingly popular happening in the beach communities. Hermosa Beach, a city of about 18,000, recently got its third sushi bar.
But some of the contestants, like Terry Hom of Los Angeles, were unable to hold it all down for the entire 45 minutes. "It was too much protein," said Hom. She quit after five plates of eight sushi pieces each.
Five chefs wearing white shirts with bright fluorescent neckties tucked neatly beneath their third button rattled incessantly in Japanese as they chopped, folded, stuffed and stacked the sushi. All of the sushi was prepared during the bout, a task that proved monumental when several chefs became distracted by the likes of Sapporo and Moosehead.
Several contestants passed the six- and seven-plate mark before calling it quits, but most of them had no chance against Sapp. Even Kenji Sano, a native of Japan who runs a guitar store in Long Beach, conceded defeat well before time had expired.
"I am just very full," Sano said. "But I have had it worse. When I was senior in high school in Japan, I ate three Big Macs and a filet of fish. Now that was really bad."