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OP PRO SURFING CHAMPIONSHIP : Sunshine State Gets Waves of Limelight at Huntington Beach

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Op Pro surfing championships were supposed to be Southern California’s premier stop on the Assn. of Surfing Professionals world tour.

But it turned out to be more like a Florida invitational.

Floridians Todd Holland, Danny Melhado and Frieda Zamba swept the titles Saturday at the Huntington Beach Pier.

Holland of Cocoa Beach, Fla., won his first major championship in four years on the tour, beating Marty Thomas of Sunset Beach, Hawaii, 109 to 96.5, in the final. Holland received $10,000 for the victory.

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Melhado, an Indialantic, Fla., native who has lived in San Clemente for six months, rallied in the final 10 minutes of his 45-minute heat to beat Mark Austin of Huntington Beach, 104.8 to 91.1, in the final of the junior amateur competition. Melhado, 17, won a $1,000 scholarship.

But the biggest moment belonged to Zamba of Flagler Beach, Fla. She became the first surfer to win four Op Pro titles, defeating Wendy Botha of Sydney, Australia, 101.5 to 87. She earned $3,500 for the victory.

Zamba, 25, was previously tied at three championships with Tom Curren of Santa Barbara, who was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Holland.

“I can’t wait for No. 5,” said Zamba, a four-time world champion who won the Op in 1984, ’86 and ’89. “I guess four has been a good number for me, though.”

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Zamba also was glad to see her fellow Floridians take home winner’s trophies.

“I’m ecstatic,” she said. “I couldn’t believe we had three East Coast surfers in the finals. I guess it’s like an omen or something.

“The waves here are basically what we ride at home. They’re real choppy, and we’re used to that. I guess that’s part of the reason why we do so well here.”

Holland, 21, said he thought it was “just a coincidence.”

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“We just all got it together and surfed good at the same time,” he said.

Melhado said the victories gave Florida surfers a new reputation.

“It’s taken the East Coast a long time to get respect on the tour,” Melhado said. “It just goes to show there’s a lot of talent there with people like Todd, Frieda and Kelly Slater (of Cocoa Beach, Fla.). We’re proving ourselves.”

Holland thought he had something to prove all week. Seeded 16th, he upset defending world-champion Martin Potter of England in the third round and Curren in the quarterfinals.

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Holland then beat Flavio Padaratz of Brazil, 80 to 71, in the semifinals early Saturday before meeting 10th-seeded Thomas in the finals.

Thomas, who grew up in Seal Beach before moving to Hawaii, reached the finals with a 79.8 to 71.3 victory over third-seeded Damien Hardman in the semifinals.

But Thomas couldn’t pull off the big moves against Holland that he did against Hardman. Thomas fell on four of his 12 waves in the final, including his first. Meanwhile, Holland scored 20.5 or better out of a possible 30 points on four of his first five waves.

“It’s important to start off with a good wave,” Holland said. “If I start with a bad one, I break my rhythm. I was fortunate that Marty fell on his first wave, because I was able to build my momentum.”

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Holland sealed the victory on his 10th wave, riding a backside floater and shooting through the pier, which earned him 22.2 points.

“It’s nice to get a victory under my belt,” Holland said. “I remember asking myself a couple of times, ‘Geez, is this ever going to happen?’ ”

There were times when Zamba asked herself if she could beat Botha. Zamba, who is surfing on the world tour part-time, lost her first eight meetings with Botha, but has won the last three.

“I’m pretty stoked,” Zamba said. “I had the chance to give her some payback. But I still have a lot of catching up to do.”

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Melhado had to do a lot of catching up in his final. Austin built a small lead early and was clinging to an 86.3 to 86 advantage with 12 minutes left.

“I knew I was behind and I would have to pull out all the stops,” said Melhado, who will be a senior at San Clemente High School this fall. “I went for the big moves and it paid off.”

Surfing Notes

In the nine-year history of the Op Pro, only three times have the men’s and women’s winners been from the same state: Tom Curren and Jorja Smith (California, 1988); Curren and Kim Mearig (California, 1983), and the Florida’s Todd Holland and Frieda Zamba this year. . . . Only once have the winners been from the same city--Curren and Mearig, both of Santa Barbara, in 1983.

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By making the finals, Holland and Marty Thomas moved up several places in the overall point standings. Thomas improved from 10th place to sixth. Holland jumped from 18th to 11th. . . . Curren, who lost to Holland in the quarterfinals, improved from third to second in the standings and trails Rob Bain of Australia by 722 points. . . . Australian Pam Burridge continues to lead the women’s standings. She is 970 points ahead of second-place Mearig. . . . ESPN will televise an hour-long program on the Op Pro at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 13.

Results

$90,000 Op Pro surfing championships

Finals

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Men

Todd Holland (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) d. Marty Thomas (Sunset Beach, Hawaii), 109-96.5. Holland received $10,000; Thomas $5,000.

Women

Frieda Zamba (Flagler Beach, Fla.) d. Wendy Botha (Sydney, Australia), 101.5-87. Zamba received $3,500; Botha $2,000.

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Junior amateurs

Danny Melhado (San Clemente) d. Mark Austin (Huntington Beach), 104.8-91.1. Melhado received a $1,000 scholarship.


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