With the National Scholastic Surfing Association West Coast Championships just three weeks away, surfers hoping to qualify for the event gathered at Huntington Beach for the final two contests of the NSSA Explorer regular season.
The two events in two days format produced quite a few first-time winners and even a double winner.
That two-time winner was Rintaro Suneya.
The 13-year-old from Japan, has been competing in the NSSA Open Boys events all season. His best finish was 2nd in the Boys U14 in week 2 and has also finished 3rd twice. This was his first time competing in the Explorer series and it was a successful one.
On Saturday he not only took first in the Boys 14-and-under, but also won the Junior 17-and-under.
"I was very happy to win because I've never won an NSSA before," Suneya said. " My backside two turns were working very good for me that helped me win."
He made it to the finals with scores of 15.33 in the quarterfinal and 13.16 in the semis.
In the Juniors division, he finished second in every round leading into the final and once he reached the championship, he totaled a 12.40 for the win.
Sunday was a breakthrough day for Malibu surfer Alberto Barzan.
The 14-year-old from Italy won his first NSAA title of the season when he took the boys division. It was a come from behind win, as he finished the heat with his two highest scores, a 6.93 and a 5.83, to top leader Alex Beggs, 12.76 to 12.27.
Barzan, who spent the past month in Hawaii, had a 4th place finish in week two and twice finished 5th. He thinks his time in Hawaii helped his improvement.
"I was practicing my rail game at the Pipe for a month and 10 days," Barzan said. "The waves in Hawaii have more power, so when I got here, I felt like I was used to these kinds of waves. These were a bit easier and more playful."
On the way to the finals, he had heats of 13.16 and 13.07. His highest single wave score of the day came in the Junior division, when he nailed a 9.67 to tie for the highest of the two-day competition.
He was attempting to be a double winner when he went out in the Junior finale and his 6.67/12.50 heat score had him in the lead until the closing seconds when Luke Rebensdorf nailed a 7.33 to round out a closing kick that gave him his second title of the Explorer season.
Rebensdorf, who won week 1, found himself in last of the 4 surfers late in the heat, but came up with back-to-back scores of 6.77 and 7.33 to claim the win with a 14.10 heat total.
"I started the heat rough. I fell on my first two waves, but I knew I had to get myself back together," Rebensdorf said. "At one point I was comboed and it made me focus a little more. Then the last five minutes I caught a good one then got a good one turn in the final seconds."
The Explorer Men's division produced two first winners of the season.
Lukas McMahon and Shota Ito took their respective championships on their first attempts in the Explorers.
Lukas McMahon Shota Ito
McMahon had a 5th place finish in the Southwest Men's Open week number 4, but put it all together in the final with a high wave score of 8.00 and winning heat total of 14.07.
His previous high was a 13.67 in his semifinal heat.
Ito, who twice finished second in the Gold Coast Explorer series, got his win with a 13.73 final heat total, led by a 7.40 single wave score.
In the Menehuene 12 and under division, Kai Thompson and Finn Castle came away winners.
While it was Thompson's first win of the season, Castle won his 3rd SW Explorer and 7th over all this season.
Thompson had two 2nd place finishes earlier in the season and Saturday came through on his last wave of the final, a 6.57, to deny Castle the win.
Thompsons earlier heat scores were 11.27 and 12.00 with his high single wave score was an 8.50. Castle had a high of 16.26 in the quarterfinals that was led by his 8.43 wave.
Castle came back the next day and kept the good surfing going, with a huge wave score of 9.10 that led him to a 16.80 finals score, and the title.
So far this year, Castle has won 1 Open Mini Grom, 2 Gold Coast Explorer Menehuene and 1 Northwest Explorer Menehuene titles to go along with his three wins in the SW Explorer.
In the youngest division, Eli Sobel and Dane Gregorius took the wins in the Super Grom 10 and under. While it was the first season win for Sobel, it was the 3rd win for Gregorius.
Sobel had a 4th in week 4, but Saturday was his day to win as he rolled scores of 4.00 and 5.00 for a winning total of 9.00 in a heat that waves were hard to come by. In the Semis, he had a 5.23 wave and 7.06 heat score to advance.
Gregorius who earlier had won weeks one and four, added another win with a 7.67 finals score. It was just enough to hold off his brother Brett, who had a 5.50 on his last wave to close the gap, but Dane held on for a 7.67 to 7.50 heat win.
Dane Gregorius. Eli Sobel
On the girl's side, it was Maddie Stanton and Hila Cohen taking the wins in the Girls 14 and under division and Zoe Panetierre and Teagan Meza winning the Super Girls 12 and under.
Stanton added to her season that includes a win in the Open Girls, three wins in the Explorer Open Womens group and a previous explorer girls win.
On this day, Stanton popped wave scores of 7.67 and 7.17 in a huge 14.84 final heat after putting up a ridiculous 9.67/16.50 semifinal total.
Cohen won her first Sw Explorer title of the season to add to her Gold Coast Explorer title from week one.
Cohen topped the finals with a 13.50 heat score, helped by her 7.83 high wave score.
And in the Super Girls, Panetierre, who finished 2nd in both weeks three and four, got her first win of the season when she put up a 13.50 finals heat score with 6.67 and 6.83 wave totals. She also had a 6.67 wave score in her semifinal win.
For Meza, it was her 8th title of the NSSA season.
She overcame challenging conditions for a 9.44 finals heat score which was good enough for the top prize. Her semifinal score of 12.66 was helped by a 7.33 wave score.
Zoe Panetierre Teagan Meza Hila Cohen
She has now won three Open Mini Grom titles, three Super Grom titles and 2 Super Girls wins.
All Explorer and Open division qualifiers will now square off in the NSSA West Coast Championships that will be held at Huntington Beach the week of May 17-21.