Brad Gerlach, a 19-year-old first-year pro, completed an improbable run to the title by defeating Tom Carroll, two-time world champion, in straight heats Sunday to win the Stubbies Pro International Surfing Tournament at Oceanside Harbor.
Gerlach, who lives in Leucadia, was unseeded, but survived two days of trials before upsetting defending champion Shaun Tomson, local favorite Mike Lambresi and Australia’s Glen Winton to reach the final.
“To tell you the truth, I spent a lot of time out there today thinking about Boris Becker,” Gerlach said. “He was just like me. A guy coming out of nowhere to win.”
It was the second straight year that Carroll has lost in the final.
“I don’t really know if there’s any hex on me or anything but he’s really a good, fresh talent,” Carroll said. “He was really excited out there. He plays off the cheers of the crowd and goes for it. I think it’s good for surfing to have somebody like that.”
Gerlach’s approach was well received by the judges in Sunday’s first heat as he gained a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three final.
In heat No. 2, Carroll made a push with a spectacular layback maneuver.
But, Gerlach’s stayed with Carroll. When Carroll fell trying a difficult kickback in the final few minutes, Gerlach appeared on his way to victory.
While standing in front of the crowd waiting for the decision on the second heat, Gerlach’s enthusiasm continued.
“I don’t care if we go to a third heat,” he told the crowd. “I’m ready to surf some more.”
He didn’t have to, however. The judges voted, 5-0, in favor of Gerlach, and surfing had a new hero.
“I don’t really know what to say,” Gerlach told the crowd. “I’ve never had to do this before.”
After Sunday’s performance, he figures to get a lot more practice.
“I knew that if I could disconnect the pressure and bad thoughts from my mind, I could do it,” Gerlach said. “I just had to pretend I was out there by myself surfing.
“I knew it was really close in that second heat and I honestly thought the judges would take it to three heats.”