Column: Huntington Beach High surf team wins NSSA national title
Andy Verdone jumped up and down like a schoolgirl at a Beatles concert this past weekend, something that probably had not happened since, well, the last Beatles concert he attended.
Actually, Verdone was just 10 years old when the Beatles played their last concert in 1969, but the visual still works.
Nevertheless, the Huntington Beach High School surf coach had reason to be ecstatic. He had just watched Ethan Hurst, Sage Guinaldo and Griffin Foy finish 1-2-3 in the repercharge heat in boys shortboard at the NSSA Interscholastic National Championships Saturday at Salt Creek in Dana Point.
What that meant was that all three qualified to surf in the final heat on Sunday, giving each of the H.B. boys a chance for an individual national championship, as well as grabbing an opportunity to overtake powerhouse San Clemente and win the team national championship.
San Clemente went into Day 2 of the event leading 136-123, but Huntington had a good chance to pull ahead on championship Sunday because the Oilers had five surfers in a finals heat while San Clemente had just one.
Besides Hurst, Guinaldo and Foy in the boys’ shortboard, they also had Jovan Smith-Scott in the boys’ longboard final and Chiasa Maruyama in the girls’ shortboard final. San Clemente had Elijah Fox in the boys’ shortboard final.
The first in the water was Smith-Scott, who set the tone by winning the longboard national title. Smith-Scott dropped his second wave in the six-point range in the final minutes of the heat to pull it out. It also gave H.B. six team points, to close the overall gap to 136-129.
Maruyama was up next in the girls’ shortboard final, and wound up in third place for four team points, cutting H.B.’s deficit to 136-133, with just the boys’ shortboard final remaining.
In the final, Foy seemed to take control, looking comfortable in the 3-5-foot conditions, landing an air on one wave and making the most out of every wave. It came down to the wire, but Foy was edged out by Wyatt McHale of Hawaii’s Waialua High for the individual title.
Foy, who won the NSSA state title as a freshman two years ago, finished second, followed by Guinaldo and Hurst. Just as big was that they contributed in knocking Fox down to fifth place. That pushed Huntington ahead of San Clemente in total points, 145-138, to claim the school’s 19th national championship in its 51-year existence. Laguna Beach High finished third in the team standings, and Hawaii’s Kamehameha High was fourth.
“Just look at the kids,” Verdone said as the H.B. team celebrated after the awards ceremony. “These kids are the same as the first championship kids. They’re all growing up in high school and learning how to be young adults. You think about all those old Beach Boys songs, be true to your school, I believe in that.
“I’ve grown older and I appreciate it more. I know what it means because I’m a father and I see the parents and the look in their eyes when they see their children’s accomplishments.”
So Verdone could be excused for letting his hair down a little, to the delight of his assistant coaches Brett Barnes and Bill Sharp. Certainly they could understand Verdone’s school pride as much as anybody.
“When I went to high school, I wanted to help our school win competitions, and this is no different,” Verdone said. “Our ‘football field’ is the ocean, our competitive arena is the beach, and the waves. It’s no different than any other sport.”
While Huntington Beach High won the team title, only one H.B. surfer won an individual national championship.
Jovan Smith-Scott was like all groms surfing the pier — a shortboarder who wanted to pull off all the trendy moves and airs that are glamorized on YouTube by some of the world’s best surfers.
But along the way, Smith-Scott found longboarding, a much different type of surfing, one that puts a much bigger emphasis on style.
Smith-Scott showed off that style in the waning moments of the longboard final at the NSSA Interscholastic National Championships on Sunday, nabbing a score in the six-point range, adding to another six earlier in the heat to win the crown.
“I knew I needed that six and I was paddling around searching for the left, I knew that inside left was working,” said Smith-Scott, a junior who won the JV longboard national title last year. “And I saw this other guy out there, I saw him try to go for it and I had to sit in front of him on it and went left, took off and it just all came together and worked out. I ended up finishing the wave good and it was perfect.”
Perfect, but was it good enough? As he emerged from the water, the scores had not yet been tabulated. And he saw one of the Hawaiian teams hooting and hollering for their longboarder as he joined them on the beach.
“I had no clue at first,” Smith-Scott said. “I came in and saw the Hawaiians freaking out. I thought that guy did really well and then I came in, out of the water and hear the scores dropping and my heart starts pumping and pumping and pumping. And then I hear ‘Your new champion Jovan Smith’ and I just … best feeling in the world.”
While Smith-Scott will pull out a shortboard every once in awhile, he’s a longboarder now, something that began when he was in middle school.
“In the beginning it was for the Dwyer (Middle School) surf team,” Smith-Scott said. “Ms. (Stacy) Wood needed someone to longboard, and I was open to new ideas when I was young. Shortboarding was super fun and then my buddy loaned me a longboard.
“It was this huge board — 9-foot-6, 30 inches wide — it was way too big for me. But I took it out in surf class and had a blast and did the longboard for Ms. Wood throughout my sixth-, seventh- and eight-grade years there. I would make finals, never won them but finally got to high school for coach Verdone and started to get real serious about it, started doing contests and then coach Verdone was really the guy who put me forward and got me winning all this stuff.”
JOE HAAKENSON is a Huntington Beach-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at email@example.com.
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