Sweetwater Surf Shop’s surf team took on six other teams from around the United States in tropical, head-high waves for the 2014 Oakley Surf Shop Challenge Nationals, held last month in Playa Colorado, Nicaragua.
Sweetwater’s original team consisted of two professionals, Ben Bourgeois and Dylan Kowalski, and two surf shop employees, Spencer Lem and Michael Casper. The team earned its ticket to the national contest in April when it won the mid-Atlantic regional competition in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. Casper, however, was studying abroad during Nationals and unable to attend, so Tim Martin joined the team.
While the regional event was held in small waves and chilly water, the national event was contested in tropical, 4-5 foot conditions.
“It was maybe 6 feet on the sets,” Lem said during a Nov. 18 phone interview. “It was pretty clean … fun, little waves the whole time.”
The event format consisted of two semi-final heats and a final. During each hour-long heat, team members took turns paddling out to catch waves. Every team member was allowed to catch a maximum of three waves, and their highest-scoring wave counted toward the team’s total score.
Although the Sweetwater surfers weren’t out in the water at the same time, Lem said teamwork was still vital to their success. He said when one team member was out in the water, the others would stand near shore coaching the surfer into the best waves.
“And we all had team jerseys so we could distinctly see each other,” he said. “We did that for everybody.”
The Sweetwater team arrived before contest day to practice surfing the local break. Martin also had a close encounter with the local wildlife.
“He actually stepped on a stingray on his second wave,” Lem said. “And it was his first surf trip ever, so he got the full experience. But he made a full recovery and now he’s got a nickname that’s stuck with him for life — Stingray Martin.”
Sweetwater advanced to the final, along with Sunrise Surf Shop from Jacksonville, Fla.; Surf Ride from Oceanside, Calif.; and T&C Surf Designs from Hawaii. Sunrise Surf Shop took the trophy home, with Sweetwater placing second.
“It feels good,” Lem said. “We’ve actually won four out of the five regional contests we’ve competed in and two national titles, and we’ve had pretty much a different team every year so it’s a cool feeling.”
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