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San Clemente’s Taj Lindblad and Hawaii’s Luana Silva claim National Scholastic Surfing Assn. open titles

San Clemente’s Taj Lindblad and Encinitas’ Nick Marshall paddled out on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier late Wednesday morning like they have probably hundreds of times in their young lives.

But this time, they had the waves all to themselves.

Lindblad, 16, and Marshall, 18, were pitted against each other in the open men’s final of the National Scholastic Surfing Assn. National Championships, an accomplishment in itself considering the competition they faced from the beginning of the event.

Forty-three surfers from around the country were entered in the open men’s division in an effort to add themselves to a who’s-who list of surfers that goes back to the first champion — Huntington Beach’s Bud Llamas — in 1978.

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When the 30-minute heat was completed, it was Lindblad who was chaired up the beach by his dad Marc and San Clemente surfer/coach Jeremy Carter.

Both surfers had to endure an extended lull in the waves late in the heat, so a fast start by Lindblad proved to be the difference as he won with a two-wave score of 12.50 (7.00 and 5.50) to Marshall’s 7.66 (4.83 and 2.83).

Taj Lindhald of San Clemente competes during the men?s open finals at the National Scholastic Surfin
Taj Lindblad of San Clemente competes in the open men's final at the National Scholastic Surfing Assn. National Championships in Huntington Beach on Wednesday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“That was big because he’s so good,” Lindblad said of Marshall. “I was super worried because he can go on a knee-high wave and do a full rotation and get a huge score because he’s so good.”

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The difference was Lindblad’s 7.00 in the first few minutes of the heat.

“My goal for the heat was get a quick start,” Lindblad said. “Every time I get a quick start, I always surf better throughout the heat. So I got that quick seven and it gave me the confidence to get through.”

Lindblad backed up his 7.00 with a 5.50 in the final two minutes, leaving Marshall needing a 7.68 in the waning seconds, but that wave never came.

“So stoked, [the hard work is] finally paying off,” Lindblad said. “For a couple years it wasn’t, but I was working real hard, so I’m stoked it’s finally paying off.

“You have to put a lot of work in. Everyone works so hard, so if you want to be better, you’ve got to work harder, and that means more time in the water. That’s better than more time on the soccer field, I think.”

Luana Silva of Hawaii competes during the women?s open finals at the National Scholastic Surfing Ass
Luana Silva of Hawaii competes in the open women's final at the National Scholastic Surfing Assn. National Championships in Huntington Beach on Wednesday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The open women’s final included two Hawaiians — Luana Silva and Gabbi Knudson — with Silva putting up some big scores to win the title, 17.27 (8.77 and 8.50) to Knudson’s 13.67 (7.67 and 6.00).

Silva also put up a 7.70 that didn’t figure into her point total, but it was her first wave of the heat, setting the tone that she was the one to beat.

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“My strategy was just to get an early start and keep backing my first wave up and keep improving on that,” said Silva, 15, who lives in Hale’iwa on the North Shore of Oahu. “I just needed to keep putting the pressure on her and keep getting better scores after my other ones. Just keep improving.”

Silva could glance up at the big board on the NSSA tent that lists the past national champions, knowing that she will be up there with other open women’s winners like Carissa Moore, Lakey Peterson, Courtney Conlogue and Caroline Marks, all of whom are currently on the World Surf League’s Championship Tour.

“It’s honestly the best feeling ever,” Silva said. “I’ve always wanted to be on that board because there’s so many amazing champions and they’re all in the CT now. And when the heat’s over, it’s just a relief, you did it, you can get that out of the way and move on to the next big thing.”

The NSSA national champions in the other open divisions include:

Mini-groms (10 and under) — Quaid Fahrion; Boys (12 and under) — Jak Ziets; Super girls (12 and under) — Bella Kenworthy; Girls (14 and under) — Vaihiti Inso; Juniors (15 and under) — Robert Grilho; Longboard (all ages) — Mack Landry; NSSA Jr. air show — Hayden Rodgers; NSSA air show — Nick Marshall.

For Janice Aragon, the national championships were her 30th as the NSSA executive director.

“Every year the nationals brings the top kids in the nation,” Aragon said. “You’re seeing incredible performances from kids from all over the country, because the waves have cooperated it’s been really good here. They did have to grind out a couple days, but today it’s picked up and the surfers are utilizing the great conditions and they’re crushing it. They’re going ballistic.”

Luana Silva of Hawaii celebrates winning the women?s open finals at the National Scholastic Surfing
Luana Silva of Hawaii celebrates winning the open women's title at the National Scholastic Surfing Assn. National Championships in Huntington Beach on Wednesday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
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JOE HAAKENSON is a contributor to Times Community News.


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