As Tanner Gudauskas sat with his Skull Candy headphones strapped to his head, belting beats into his brain, getting his pre-heat psyche on, garbed in a white U.S. Open jersey, a middle-aged woman in a wide-brimed sun hat and glossy red lipstick tapped his knee.
"Excuse me," she said, "but can you explain the scoring to me and my son?"
Minutes away from paddling out for his Round of 96 heat, Gudauskas uncorked himself from the tunes and took the time to explain the finite details the ASP judging criteria. He wasn't burdened or put off, with his trademark smile he noted things like length of ride and what makes a maneuver critical.
The Gudauskas entourage was camped out in the bleachers down the beach from the contest's nerve center, happily mingling with the salt of the earth, stoked as ever. And while Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, the return of Dane Reynolds, and poster boy Julian Wilson's end-of-the-day statement may steal the headlines, Patrick and Tanner Gudauskas brought a little local flavor. In a combined effort in their heat today they went one and two, respectively, both advancing on to surf again tomorrow.
Tonight the boys' film, "Get-N Classic," a project they've been tirelessly working on with Vans, premieres at the Lido Theater in Newport Beach -- a down home venue for a surf film premiere if ever there was one. Thusly, the Vans' team have all stumbled into Surf City, casting a stark contrast to high-gloss Nike athletes Wilson, Kolohe Andino and Carissa Moore, who's likeness is draped around the Open arena.
As apparent by the venue in Huntington, this may be the summer of Nike. There may be "Just To It" banners blanketing Main Street and night sessions at Seaside Reef. You may have seen 6.0 commercials broadcast during X Games or the NBA Finals. Indeed, they may be winning the battle for eyeballs, but Vans could very well be winning the war for hearts and minds.
It's like this: where Nike signed thoroughbred competitors like Andino and Evan Geiselman, Vans quietly solidified its relationships with John Florence and Andrew Doheny -- one a future Pipe Master, the other plays in a band and shapes boards for his friends. Nike has Wilson, Vans has Reynolds (no question who kids emulate more -- you don't see a lot of puka shell necklaces around, but neck beards are all the rage). Nike has Dusty Payne and Michel Bourez; Payne the first-ever world tour surfer from Maui, Bourez the first from Tahiti since Vetea David in the early '90s. Meanwhile, Vans gets the guitar-playin', smile-wearin' Gudauksas brothers (aka the G-Boys, the Gudangs, the Froths) from talent-rich San Clemente. Nike's grabbed a piece of the emerging Brazilian pie, locking up Alejo Muniz and Gabriel Medina. Vans goes the opposite, supporting stylists Joel Tudor and Alex Knost, as well as jack-of-all-trade hellman Nathan Fletcher, who some regard as one of the best all-around surfers the world over. There is that little issue of the women's teams, of which Nike probably has the best in the business, but as far as a compare and contrast of the male talent goes, it's an interesting study in marketing strategies.
That's not to say one team is better than the other. The brands are coming from two very different frames of reference. Five-plus years in and Nike's just now finding its footing (case in point, the amazing job they've done turning the quality of the Open around). Conversely, Vans wildly successful shoe "The Cab" turns 20 this year. Tony Alva was wearing waffle souls before Jordan took to the air or Bo knew anything. One grew up in action sports, the other's just getting on board. One prides itself on its originality, the other on athletic excellence. To be sure, there's room for both in surfing. Nike's single-handedly kept competitive pro surfing alive on the West Coast, while Vans sponsors the Triple Crown in Hawaii.
Oh yes, and about the contest. That's right, the main event got underway today. Slater, Fanning, Wilson, Reynolds, Andino and Geiselman were all among those that advanced. After sixteen mind-numbing heats held in extremely marginal two- to three-foot surf, the details are a little fuzzy. Lets put it like this, all of today's winners scratched in to small lumps out the back, hopped like mad to make the connection to the inside sandbar, and then managed some kind of smash, bash, release or float to close out the ride. It was mechanical.
Thankfully, Surfline's calling for a bump in swell building into Thursday, so hopefully the guys will have something more to ride as we get closer to the money rounds. Until then, get classic Surf City.
Nike US Open Round of 96 Results:
Heat 1: Hizunome Bettero (BRA) 12.17, Torrey Meister (HAW) 10.30, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 9.50, Glen Hall (IRL) 9.20
Heat 2: Dusty Payne (HAW) 12.93, Jonathan Gonzales (CNY) 10.96, Austin Ware (USA) 10.86, Matt Wilkinson (USA) 10.70
Heat 3: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 16.73, Kekoa Bacalso (HAW) 15.07, Cory Lopez (USA) 14.73, Adam Robertson (AUS) 11.63
Heat 4: Evan Geiselman (USA) 12.37, Blake Thornton (AUS) 11.27, Michel Bourez (PYF) 10.07, Travis Logie (ZAF) 5.70
Heat 5: Richard Christie (NZL) 14.13, Jack Freestone (AUS) 13.90, Damien Hobgood (USA) 12.30, Nathaniel Curran (USA) 9.55
Heat 6: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 14.67, Joel Centeio (HAW) 12.00, Roy Powers (USA) 9.94, Tom Whitaker (AUS) 8.40
Heat 7: Chris Davidson (AUS) 12.90, Pedro Henrique (BRA) 12.23, Lincoln Taylor (AUS) 11.80, Kai Otton (AUS) 8.77
Heat 8: Taj Burrow (AUS) 15.93, Conner Coffin (USA) 12.34, Nic Muscroft (AUS) 11.00, Billy Stairmand (NZL) 9.30
Heat 9: Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 16.33, Tanner Gudauskas (USA) 14.93, Leonardo Neves (BRA) 10.56, Caio Ibelli (BRA) 10.00
Heat 10: Brian Toth (PRI) 14.03, Alejo Muniz (BRA) 11.06, Dion Atkinson (AUS) 10.10, Gony Zubizarreta (ESP) 9.34
Heat 11: Josh Kerr (AUS) 14.03, Dylan Graves (PRI) 10.93, Bernardo Miranda (BRA) 9.33, Daniel Ross (AUS) 7.54
Heat 12: Kelly Slater (USA) 15.50, Jano Belo (BRA) 12.57, Jay Quinn (NZL) 10.63, Mason Ho (HAW) 8.37
Heat 13: Mick Fanning (AUS) 11.50, Aritz Aranburu (EUK) 11.30, Luke Davis (USA) 10.77, Marc Lacomare (FRA) 9.30
Heat 14: Adam Melling (AUS) 12.47, Kolohe Andino (USA) 11.50, Joan Duru (FRA) 9.87, Raoni Monteiro (BRA) 6.70
Heat 15: Dane Reynolds (USA) 14.10, Jesse Mendes (BRA) 13.66, Tim Reyes (USA) 12.67, Shaun Joubert (ZAF) 8.53
Heat 16: Julian Wilson (AUS) 14.67, Gabe Kling (USA) 12.73, Kai Barger (HAW) 10.00, Sunny Garcia (HAW) 6.83