Who was your pick going into Bells?
Well, we should say, who was your pick for the finals after Brazilians Willian Cardosa and Raoni Monteiro took out Kelly Slater and Joel Parkinson? Maybe you were still flying the Mick Fanning flag? If you were thinking this might be Jordy Smith's time, you wouldn't have been alone. Josh Kerr would have been a solid pick. But the odds were probably on Taj Burrow.
It's safe to say it wasn't rookie Nat Young.
Young had a solid showing on the Gold Coast. And it's not that rookies can't go to finals. Gabriel Medina and John John Florence have proved that in recent history. But they were also heralded as greatness before they qualified. And not that goofyfoots can't win at Bells. As Shane Beschen pointed out, Occy won here -- in 1998! But rookie goofyfoots do not go to the final at Bells. After all, it seems like only a few years ago he was winning the NSSA Nationals.
But that's what happened. After losing round four, the Santa Cruz kid went right into the fire and just barely came out ahead of Kerr. Next came a convincing win over Cardosa, the guy who had ousted the best surfer ever to put feet in wax. But there was no way he was getting past Taj Burrow, who hasn't finished outside the top five in over a decade and won this thing a few years back.
But there were a couple of guys who had some faith in Young. They're the crew that have been watching him come up in the iconic town of Santa Cruz for years. They see him crushing airs, training and making light work of the heaviest days. And they were back in Santa Cruz watching their boy mow through the best in the world on the Rip Curl webcast.
"All of my buds on the Westside watched it at my friend's house where we usually get together to watch Niners games. And all of my friends on the Eastside watched it at Nic Hdez's house," said Young.
Hdez is a top ASP North America Junior competitor. He trains with Young under Joey Wolfe at Paradigm Sports and had everyone over to watch the early rounds on the computer.
"All of Santa Cruz was just stoked to be watching. For that last day I sprung for an HDMI cord and plugged the laptop right into the TV. More people came over and it was like watching your team in a football game," said Hdez.
Gathered around the tube were such Santa Cruz notables as Jason Hdez, Noi Kaulukukui, Bud Freitas, Austin Ford and other good friends of Young.
"We were pretty loud and the neighbors came over to see what was going on. Then they joined in. Every time he got a wave, it was nuts," added Hdez.
For all the global big-wave talent and aerialists that have come out of Santa Cruz, Adam Repogle was the last guy to surf the Tour. And that was in 1997, so it's not likely his homeboys were crowded around a Macbook eating takeout from Taqeria Santa Cruz.
In the Young/Burrow semifinal, Burrow looked expectedly comfortable. But with six minutes remaining, Young put up another solid performance. And across the inside, he unloaded a devastating backside blast and smashed the end section, coming freefalling back to the face before he kicked out for an 8.8. Each surfer got one more lick, but nothing to change the fact that Young was going to the final.
"It was just surreal. I couldn't believe it," said Young. "Every heat just keeps replaying over and over in my head. Beating Taj was amazing. He's been one of my favorite surfers since I started surfing. A big part of that event was not giving up. I had multiple buzzer beaters where I pretty much counted myself out and then got that score in the last minute."
This event was destined to go to a Brazilian, however. As the final seconds ticked off, Young wasn't able to get into that last wave. Adrian de Souza would ring the bell for 2013 -- even if the armchair crew didn't agree with the judges.
"In all of our eyes, Nat won," laughs Hdez.
Young graciously showered de Souza with champagne while all his boys went and surfed Pleasure Point.