The 10½-month-long Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour stopped in sunny Southern California last week for the Stubbies Pro International. It was off a classic freeway and down a hill past a shopping mall called Cape Cod Village, to a glorious strand called Oceanside Harbor Beach. The ocean there was definitely Pacific at times, which isn't the best thing for a surfing contest.
The announcer called out to the crowd of thousands strewn along the sand, "This is no tennis tournament; surfing conditions constantly change." So does surfing. Annette Funicello is 42, for those who haven't checked recently, and you can't even hang ten anymore; boards are so short and light they tip over if you try. Surf bums have cut their hair and bought sports coats, and that old endless summer is now a search for sponsors.
Stubbies is a line of casual men's clothing, and the competition that the clothing company bankrolled was the 10th of 20 events on the tour. Cash prizes totaled $30,000, with $4,500 for the winner, but the real money in surfing comes from endorsements: The current and two-time world champion, a tough little Australian named Tom Carroll, last year picked up some $150,000 from sponsors. At Ocean-side, though, the 23-year-old Carroll was only 13th in the world rankings, having declined to enter three summer competitions in South Africa, as a protest against apartheid.
In his quarterfinal heat, Carroll showed his world-champion style when he dropped to the base of a five-foot wave and then rocketed up its face, briefly hanging upside down beneath his board. Then, rebounding off the wave's lip, he made a 180-degree turn, charged back down the wave and did the whole thing over again.
None of the heats at the Stubbies was more eagerly awaited than Carroll's semifinal against Santa Barbara's 21-year-old Tommy Curren (SI, July 8). The American had also eschewed South Africa, and thus was ranked only 11th in the world standings. Carroll is a power surfer, while Curren displays a rare combination of grace and radical moves. One of his quarterfinal rides had been even more impressive and complex than Carroll's double re-entry. It included a backside tube ride, one of the most difficult maneuvers in surfing, for a 9.8 score, just shy of the ultimate 10.
The Stubbies International semis turned into a double Australia vs. California matchup. In the Curren-Carroll heat, Curren got louder cheers, but Carroll seemed to get bigger waves—scratch one Californian. In the other match, it was Terry Richardson, a 29-year-old father of twins from Wollongong, New South Wales, ranked 54th in the world but one of the great tube riders, against the James Dean of surfing, a brash and impulsive 19-year-old from Encinitas named Brad Gerlach. Gerlach's father, Joe, once earned a living by jumping 85 feet from a balloon onto a sponge the size of a Lincoln Continental.
Joe would have been proud of his son in the quarterfinals. A six-foot wave hissed down, closing out on him, but Gerlach vaulted toward the cascading lip and used it to smack himself into the trough, a daring and resourceful move. Ashore, he said, "I'm ready to blow those Aussies out of the water."
And he did. Though Richardson and his tube rides at first outscored Gerlach in the semis, Jumpin' Joe's little boy started zooming up and down the waves, leaving Richardson stuck in his tubes.
Against Carroll, Gerlach surfed like a joyful otter. Up to the lip he would swoop, and just before he went over the top he would whip his flashy yellow board around 180 degrees, smash down the wave and swoop up again. The announcer shouted, "They said he was too radical, too uncontrolled to make the finals. But here he is!"
Gerlach had gone into the water ranked 30th. When he waded out, there he was—first in the Stubbies Pro International and 19th in the world.