Having lived near Newport Beach, where his father owns a surf shop, Richie Collins quite naturally first jumped on a surfboard when he was just 3 years old.
By the time he was 11, he was working in the shop in the summer, earning enough money to pay for his own trips to Hawaii to surf.
His father, Lance Collins, recalls one trip to the big island when Richie was 11.
"It was at Black Sand Beach," Lance Collins said. "It was eerie. The water looked black, there were volcanoes all around and there were 10- to 12-foot breakers. I didn't even want to go out. But here was this kid on a 4-foot 10-inch board. I tell you, he isn't afraid of anything."
Lance says Richie was competing in tournaments when he was 10.
"By the time he got to be 14 or so, he had won over 100 trophies. I finally said to him, 'Why don't you turn pro so you can win some money instead? I'm tired of trophies.' "
So Collins, now 19, became a pro at an age when most of his friends were entering high school. He did it with an "agro" attitude, as he likes to call his aggressiveness, and has gone from the sands of Newport and Hawaii to the top of the world tour.
It has been his lifelong dream to catch waves better than the best, and Collins, who now lives in Costa Mesa, is tied for sixth on the 1988 Assn. of Surfing Professionals tour.
Last season, his first full year on the tour, Collins finished 30th. That is no easy task, considering that nonseeded surfers must go through qualifying trials every week to get to the first round of the main event heats. Also consider that the tour is a grueling 10-month affair spanning six continents.
In January at the O'Neill Coors Coldwater Classic, he became only the 10th surfer to win an event coming from the trial rounds.
Nicknamed "Skeletor" by fellow surfer Dave Parmenter, Collins is 6-foot 1-inch tall and weighs 10 pounds below his normal 160.
This week, Collins is catching waves on the north side of the Oceanside pier in the $45,000 Stubbies Pro International surfing tournament, the eighth event on the tour and the first for the women.
The men's qualifying trials were held earlier in the week, and the survivors took on the No. 17 through 32 seeded surfers Thursday. In the fifth heat, Collins--seeded 21st in the tournament--drew 18-year-old Sean Yano of Hawaii. With inconsistent 2- to 3-foot breakers, Yano appeared to be leading after the first 15 minutes of the 25-minute heat.
"I was hoping a left (a wave coming from the left) would come along, but it never happened," said Collins. "I wish I was in the heat before," referring to Heat 4, when the sluggish surf really picked up.
For Collins, however, there would be no upset. The regular-footed (right foot back) surfer managed to get three good rides, using numerous cutbacks on mediocre waves, in the final nine minutes to win.
"I feel if I can get to the last 10 minutes in good position, I can usually win the heat," he said. "All I needed was a little wall to take off."
Collins will go against another Hawaiian, Hans Hedemann, in the second round of the main event today.
"I've never really done well here, so I don't really know what to expect," Collins said. "I'm really looking forward to the OP Pro (next week in Huntington Beach)."
Top competitors for the Stubbies Pro title are the defending world champion and 1988 leader, Damien Hardman of Australia; the 1985 and '86 world and defending Stubbies champion, Tom Curren of Santa Barbara, and another two-time world champion, Tom Carroll of Australia. In the women's division, South African Wendy Botha, who now resides in Sydney, Australia, is back to defend her world and Stubbies title. Last season, Botha became the first non-American to win a world championship. Also competing are three-time champion Frieda Zamba of Florida, '83 world champion Kim Mearig of Carpenteria and twin sisters Jorja and Jolene Smith of San Clemente.
In the fourth heat, unseeded Noah Budroe of Huntington Beach upset 20th-seeded Robert Page of Australia. Budroe became the first nonseeded surfer to advance to today's main-event round against the top 16 seeded competitors. Other surfers advancing from the trials were Mike Lambresi (Carlsbad), John Parmenter (Huntington Beach), Jeff Booth (San Clemente), Brian McNulty (San Clemente) and Stuart Bedford-Brown (Australia). . . . Australians have dominated the ASP tour, winning 9 of the 12 world titles since its inception in 1976. Last season, 14 of the top 30 surfers were from Down Under. This season's standings show 8 Australians in the top 10, and 19 in the top 32. The United States has 2 surfers in the top 10, Hawaii's Derek Ho (second) and Richie Collins (tied for sixth). Nine other Americans range from 11th to 32nd place. In addition to Collins and Curren, the top California riders are Mike Parsons (Laguna Beach), Brad Gerlach (Encinitas) and Chris Frohoff (Redondo Beach). . . . The general public will get a chance to meet the surfers at a special reception being held tonight at 6:30 at the Oceanside pier.