Newport-Mesa kids take on powder on national stage

Two 12-year-old Newport-Mesa snowboarders are looking to light up the slopes in the coming days as they compete in the 22nd annual National Championships held by the United States of America Snowboard Assn. this week at Copper Mountain, Colo.

Both Chandler Hunt and Sammy Swanson are already veteran snowboarders who have racked up multiple victories and sponsorships. They both are scheduled to compete in the half-pipe competition on Wednesday and the slope-style on Thursday.

And, they both are looking forward to the competition.

"Nationals is so fun and I like coming back each year to see and meet new snowboarder friends from all over America," Swanson said. "This year, I met Chandler Hunt who lives right here in Newport. I'm looking forward to skating with him this summer at Volcom. The competition and pressure at Nationals is tough, but it helps me progress in my favorite sport. I try to just compete against myself."

Hunt agreed with Swanson.

"Nationals is an awesome experience," Hunt said. "Getting to represent Southern California — people think it's weird I live at the beach and snowboard. It is great meeting kids from all over the country and making new friends. It is also cool seeing how the tricks you learned during the season stack up against all the other kids my age."

Hunt is a Newport Beach resident and student at Mariners Christian School. He started snowboarding recreationally about five years ago and within a short time, he made the Mountain High snowboard team. Then last year he split his weekends between the Mountain High team and a team at the Tahoe resort of Northstar. He was invited to the Nationals competition last year and managed to climb from the bottom of the rankings to No. 20 out of 100.

He is sponsored by Surfside Sports in Costa Mesa and Smith Optics out of Ketchum, Idaho, one of the largest producers of goggles, helmets, sunglasses and eyewear in the winter sports world. Hunt is also sponsored by Orange County-based Heel Bruise skate wear.

Swanson qualified but missed Nationals last year due to a broken collarbone the week prior. But this year, Swanson, who has been snowboarding since the age of 4, started his season in January and came out hungry to take the Regionals. His victories this season include four gold medals in half-pipe, and two golds in both slope-style and boarder-cross. Swanson took first in the Arbor Face Off Junior Jam as well.

Swanson lives in Costa Mesa and is sponsored by Orange County's Signal Snowboards, Von Zipper and Active Ride Shop Costa Mesa. He's the son of Newport-Mesa Board Member Katrina Foley, a former Costa Mesa councilwoman.

"Someone recently asked whether I'm a park or contest kid — I'm both," Swanson said. "I love riding freestyle park with my friends at Bear Mountain and Mammoth, but contests force me to challenge myself and push my limits."

Hunt, who has attended Mariners Christian School since kindergarten, took a leave of absence from the Costa Mesa school in November to attend the snowboard academy in Park City, Utah, where he trained six days a week. He maintained his Mariners school work while he was there. The move paid dividends for Hunt, who competed in and dominated the Inter-mountain Snowboard Series in slope-style events, jumps, rails and the half-pipe, taking gold medals in events in Sun Valley, Idaho and Jackson Hole, Wyo.

"We put so much time and effort into moving into Park City this year," Hunt said. "All of that has paid off with gold medals."

During the season, Swanson's parents drive to Bear Mountain nearly every weekend so Swanson can train or compete. All the winter breaks are spent somewhere in the snow, either at Bear, Mammoth, Tahoe or Colorado. When Swanson is not boarding, he enjoys skateboarding for the Costa Mesa Middle School skate team and playing tackle football with Costa Mesa Pop Warner as fullback, center and middle linebacker. He has a 3.8 grade-point average with all honors classes at Costa Mesa Middle School.

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