Women surfers take over Pupukea on all manner of surf craft for the 2006 O’Neill Team Challenge
First, I’d like to extend a wholehearted apology on behalf of the entire group of women professional surfers to anyone who was injured, annoyed, or simply bewildered by the reckless dysfunctional wave riding that occurred at Pupukea during the first annual O’Neill Team Challenge.
To any surfers who might have found themselves flustered by the sight of no less than fifteen overly excited girls kicking out to the lineup on cheap grocery store Styrofoam boogie boards, only to takeoff three at a time on the first catch-able wave that presented itself and then flop, bounce, or sideslip awkwardly down the face of the wave, through the explosive shore break and all the way up onto the beach, I must apologize. I also hope that any serious body boarders did not take offence to the careless mockery made of the sport, or the seemingly endless string of drop-knee 360s spun by the multi-talented Kyla Langen. You see it just wasn’t our fault. The only explanation I can offer is that we were collectively possessed by a competitive demon that would lead us to perform dizzying oceanic feats and fiery sand-based battles in a variety of divisions leading up to the awarding of the cherished Golden Paddle and a year’s worth of bragging rights.
As the day progressed, those of you in the water quickly realized that boogie boarding was only the first challenge. While O’Neill team rider, Melanie Bartels holds several amateur national body board titles (in the men’s division no less), it became immediately apparent that displaying skill in executing serious maneuvers was not necessarily the best strategy for producing high scores. Barrel-rolls, spinners, and tube rides would simply be no match for Megan Abubo’s impressive extended backwards ride which she performed with her face in the whitewash, mismatched flippers flapping wildly and bikinied bottom pointed high and mightily towards the judges. The move was completed amazingly with a quick turn back to the standard riding position just in time to contend with the shore pound threatening to plant her firmly on the beach. The scorecards flew skyward, proclaiming the first “perfect ten” of the day.
If the other surfers in the lineup prayed for liberation from the chaos of surfer girls gone wild, the gods seemed to respond with increasing swell and current, not to mention a forcefully intimidating shore break. It was a worthy move considering the next competitive division required each team to swim a large inner tube out into the lineup, place the chosen teammate inside it, and push her into a wave. In this case, points were awarded based on the size of the wave as well as the length of the ride with bonus points awarded for humor. Sounds easy enough, right? I assure you that getting that inner tube out past cascading six foot walls of water was no easy matter. After multiple false starts that resulted in entire teams and their tubes washing up together on the shore, a few discovered that the ideal strategy was to turn the tube upside down, have each teammate grab a handle and simply hold on while the wave gods did their best to rip the tube away. After the set passed it was an all out scramble to swim the tube to the lineup, get in the best position, and then, “bombs away!”
Once again, Megan Abubo flourished, pulling her team far ahead in the point race.
With a good portion of the Pacific Ocean tucked safely away in the sinuses of the best women surfers in the world, it seemed time to give the lineup a break and engage in a friendly game of Dodgeball. Did I say friendly? Not with this group! By this point in the day, the demon had a firm grip on the puppet strings. Every “out” was contested with vigor. The judges were assaulted for every call, and complete denial of the reality of a loss was widespread. Sarah Beardmore and Serena Brooke refused to stand down. The competitive demon is strong in those two, but they certainly aren’t the only ones. At this point we also suffered our first casualty. Kim Wooldridge sacrificed a finger for the good of her team, not a nail by the way, but an actual finger! She was sidelined with reverence.
Time-out was called by the smoking bar-be-que, and six-time World Champion Layne Beachley grilled chicken breasts to perfection.
If Mom had been there, she surely would have insisted we wait at least thirty minutes, but the rafts had been sitting smugly in a pile, taunting us all day. At long last, it was time. Each team grabbed raft and oars with something that almost resembled seriousness and paraded them down to the shoreline. Strategies were discussed and timing considered. Both were crucial.
The disasters that occurred in the shore break that sent rafts, oars, and team members flying would prove to be the most hilarious moments of the entire day.
A mistimed raft launch would first result in a dumping of the team. While the team members collected themselves from the washing machine-like action of the shore break and pulled themselves upright, paddles in hand, the raft would be sucked out by the surge, filled with water by the churning foam and then propelled back towards shore with enough weight and momentum to literally knock the entire team down in one pass. They would then struggle to their feet anew and occasionally be taken back down immediately by the surge pulling the raft out to sea once more. While getting beat around myself in just this manner, I happened to look down the beach and see two other teams occupied in exactly the same way, and at that moment my own teammate standing not more than an arm’s reach away was launched a few feet into the air by our raft connecting with the back of her legs at a faster than expected rate. She let out a yelp of surprise, and I collapsed in the sand in a fit of laughter. There was sand in our hair, in our bikinis, in our teeth, we had cut ourselves on rocks, tweaked shoulders, and bruised ourselves with errant paddles, but every single girl was smiling like a…. well, like a competitive little demon. Treacherous inside section or not, we were determined to make it out to the lineup, and eventually we all did.
At this point, I need to apologize again. Once we finally made it outside to the lineup, we were not about to choose a mediocre wave. After all that effort, we wanted nothing less than the biggest wave that came through. With total disregard for the multitude of surfers waiting patiently for the next set, we paddled our rafts to the top of the peak and positioned ourselves directly between the surfers just outside of where the average sized waves were breaking, so that the first big one that came in would have no choice but to pick us up and rocket us towards shore and our planned victory. In some cases we plowed right through the pack, sending surfers frantically scattering in all directions. I am sure we ruined at least one surfer’s day, and for that I am truly sorry. At that point we had no control at all. We were simply holding on for our lives while losing ourselves to waves of hysterical laughter.
My team placed first in only one division, but I am proud to say that we found our calling in an inflatable raft. While most raft rides were essentially like whitewater rafting over the falls, Lindsey Baldwin, Amee Donohoe, and I paddled our raft into one of the biggest waves I saw break all day. I won’t soon forget the look of the drop we took or the feeling of impending doom that resulted. Somehow, we didn’t nosedive straight down as I expected, but pulled off the drop and began the staccato trip to shore. Somewhere along the way, I was bounced out, but I distinctly remember laughing even while being tossed around underwater. I emerged from the foam to see Lindsey and Amee washing up on shore, still in our raft. The feeling of triumph was immeasurable.
By the time the expression session began and it was finally time to return to the familiar feel of our surfboards, I was so exhausted I could hardly surf. I paddled out just so I could get an up-close look at the antics on display. Young Coco Ho was performing very mature turns while wearing pink fairy wings, a sparkling crown, and waving a star-tipped wand.
Sarah Beardmore paddled out in a dress and a long black wig while South African Roseanne Hodge impressed the beach with her single fin riding. Through an innocent grin, Lisbeth Vindas-Dias from Costa Rica announced to the lineup that she planned to “get my butt naked” and proceeded to take off on the next left, pull her boardshorts down, give herself a “wedgie” with her bikini bottoms and then rip through a series of turns and cutbacks all the way to the inside. Once again, the judges cheered the loudest for all-around performer Megan Abubo, who took off in front of some poor guy (sorry), while wearing a Darth Vader-imitation full black helmet with mask, and did three only slightly awkward front-side turns while twirling a hot pink sparkly baton. She was simply unstoppable!
The final test was the tug-o-war.
Just before sunset, the demon was starting to lose his grip as one by one, team members collapsed in exhausted heaps in the sand. Kim Wooldridge stepped back in to assist her team even with the broken finger, after another teammate had completely passed out from too much fun. Former World Champion Sophia Mulonavich deserves a mention for her impeccable style, un-erasable smile, and determination to contribute all she had even despite her small stature.
Putting an exclamation point at the end of quite possibly the most entertaining day I have ever spent on the North Shore, a quartet of young Hawaiians called Lost At Sea jammed away any traces of demon with groovy cover tunes that paused only to announce that Megan Abubo had indeed led her team to victory.
We awoke the following morning with bruises, cuts, and all-over soreness. The waves were pumping and we were too tired to surf. It had been the best day of training imaginable. We spent all day running in the soft sand, swimming back and forth through the surf, and dancing into the night, all while laughing our heads off. I couldn’t imagine a better day. On behalf of all the girls who participated, I’d like to say sorry one more time to everyone who was in the lineup, and thank you to the good people at O’Neill for facilitating this amazing day. I can’t wait until next year!
— Holly Beck