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MUSCLE BEACH

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Those big shoulders shrug and a little smile sneaks across Mindy DeArmond’s face. There isn’t much secret to her surfing success.

Her strength is clearly strength.

“I just have huge shoulders,” DeArmond said. “I surf with a lot of power.”

The Oxnard teenager was hoping to bull her way through the women’s division of the U.S. Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach this week. She was hoping muscle might compensate for a lack of experience in this, her first professional contest.

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That was exactly what happened in the first round Tuesday when she caught a big left and nailed a couple of backside turns to finish first among four women in her heat.

“I surprised myself,” she said of her pro debut. “I was thinking, ‘This is awesome.’ ”

But Wednesday brought a different set of conditions. The waves ran smaller and less consistent, trickier to catch.

And the competition in the second round was tough.

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Surf contests are hardly the place to concentrate.

Music blares from loudspeakers, surpassed in volume only by the amplified patter of announcers calling the action just offshore.

But three hours before every heat, DeArmond is on the beach, studying the waves, wind and tide.

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“I watch the guys,” she said. “They know what they are doing. More experienced.”

The nerves kick in a half-hour before she paddles out, though she doesn’t show it. This 19-year-old is prone to laugh, running her hand through her short-cropped hair.

After giving up competitive swimming as a girl, she made her mark in United States Surfing Federation junior events. This year, she competed for Ventura College and took second at the National Scholastic Surfing Assn. championships in San Clemente.

Now DeArmond has forsaken school for the World Qualifying Series, the proving grounds of pro surfing. Her hopes are pinned on an ability to out-paddle other surfers, reaching waves before they can.

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“I try to get the first wave of the heat,” she said. “It takes some pressure off. Then they have to catch up to me.”

Once she drops in, DeArmond does not think of cutbacks or snapping turns off the top. She does not think of anything but: “Don’t fall.”

Surfers score with big maneuvers, big turns and big sprays of water. Their three best waves are tallied at the end of a 20-minute heat. The top two finishers advance.

So after DeArmond gets in three rides, she gets picky, waiting to grab the largest, cleanest face she can find. And she tries to ignore the announcers, who provide wave-by-wave scoring.

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“I’d rather not know,” she said. “Sometimes you start freakin’ out.”

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As the horn sounded to begin her heat Wednesday, DeArmond paddled away from her three competitors, hoping to find a peak of her own.

But the sets rolled past her, to the north, directly toward the others. Kim Hall picked off the first one. Julie Morris got the next. Then came Sunny Glasser.

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So much for DeArmond’s “first wave” strategy.

A full five minutes passed before she took off on a short right, carving a turn and some quick maneuvers in the white water. The waves were neither large enough nor strong enough to accommodate power surfing.

“They just died,” she later complained.

The more-experienced women were careful, grabbing what they could, fitting in a turn or two. DeArmond fell twice trying to pull big maneuvers. As time ticked by, the situation grew desperate.

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“You start scratching, trying to get any little peak just to get a score,” she said.

But the horn sounded with Morris in first, Hall in second and DeArmond in third, out of the running. It was a lesson learned, something to take along to the next contest in Virginia.

“They told me this year would be tough,” she said. “Just get the experience.”

All she can do is smile and shrug those shoulders.

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“Next year get the results.”


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