Nobody knows when surf contests as we previously knew them will resume. Considering the current restrictions on international travel, it's anybody's guess when we'll even be able to chase swells again.
For the world's most elite competitive surfers, the question of how to stay sharp and game-ready through the ambiguity of these times is a hard one to answer. In San Clemente, California, future Olympian Kolohe Andino and his friends have been working on a solution.
Over the last couple month, Andino, Ian Crane, Griffin Colapinto and his younger brother, Crosby, have teamed up with former Championship Tour surfer and current coach of the United States' junior national surf team Brett Simpson. Collectively, they've taken to running heats against one another while Simpson stands in as both judge and coach.
"None of these guys know when they're going to put a jersey on again, and you're taking about some of the best surfers in the world, so we've been working together to make sure they're staying sharp and on their game," Simpson told the WSL after a fitful session at Lower Trestles this week.
The local beaches in Orange County have been open for several weeks as covid restrictions have eased in California, and with some early-summer south swell in the water, the boys have taken advantage.
"We're doing a few different things to simulate competitive situations," continues Simpson. "One thing we're doing is sending the boys out for five minutes and asking them to get a five-point ride. By the time they get out the back they've only got a couple minutes. The idea is to keep that hunting instinct sharp. To get out there with time ticking down and get a score, to feel a little of that pressure."
The other program that Simpson, Andino and the boys have developed is running what is essentially a mini surf contest all in one morning.
"We have a first round, semi and final. We'll also run a heat for the two guys that didn't make the final. We're usually done by noon," Simpson explains.
To date they've run five of these mini-comps. Griffin took the first, Ian took the second, "then something clicked and Kolohe's taken the last three."
From a first-person perspective, I've had the good fortune to watch some bits and pieces of these heats at the San Clemente beachbreaks and everything about what they're doing right now is impressive. It's a very low-profile, low-key affair. Nobody's wearing jerseys. The vibes are light. But they're working and surfing hard.
In one instance, the waves weren't much bigger than waist-high, and the speed and precision with which all of them were surfing points to the discipline they've applied to their sessions.
"They're all at different spots in their careers right now, and we're trying to keep all of that in mind," Simpson explained. "Kolohe was in the world title hunt all year last year, and he's got the Olympics. He wants to stay at that level and got give up any ground. We're trying to get Griffin into that Top Five zone. And we're working with Ian on finishing heats and surfing hard all the way through the end. And Crosby's there, learning a ton."
In uncertain times, Simpson, Andino, the Colapintos and Crane-O have taken it upon themselves to build a program. They've put structure and purpose to what they're doing rather than simply going surfing. It'd be easy to go rip Lowers everyday. They've been doing that all their lives. And while they may not know when they'll be able to officially pull on a jersey again, when the time comes it's sure looking like they'll be ready.