In some ways, the return of surfing competition felt like normalcy once again – navigating the waves at the iconic Huntington Beach Pier, the thrill of earning a high score, surfers said.

But there was also something special about this weekend’s return of competitive surfing in Orange County for the first time in a year.

A surfer walks past a banner at the USA Surfing contest held on Saturday, February 20, 2021, on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier in Huntington Beach. It is the first competition allowed in Orange County amid the pandemic as more than 100 of the best under 18 junior surfers competed. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

“It kind of felt normal. It was really nice having something normal,” said San Clemente surfer Sawyer Lindblad, who earned USA Surfing Prime titles in both the under 18 and under 16 divisions. “After the contest, I just felt really grateful I was able to compete and be back doing what I love.”

Surfing, because it is done outdoors and distance can be kept between competitors, is one of the first youth sports to get back in action following a year-long break.

The event drew more than 100 of the West Coast’s best junior surfers to battle it out for West Coast titles. It also served as a qualification into the Toyota USA Surfing Championships to be held at Lower Trestles later this year. The event is the highest level of junior amateur competition in the nation.

Lindblad is just one of several Orange County surfers who reached the podium on the final day, Sunday.

San Clemente’s Jett Schilling earned the win in the boys under 18 division and fellow San Clemente surfer Rex Hennings earned top spot in the under 14 division.

Jett Schilling surfs during heat three of the quarter final in the USA Surfing contest held on Saturday, February 20, 2021, on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier in Huntington Beach. It is the first competition allowed in Orange County amid the pandemic as more than 100 of the best under 18 junior surfers competed. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Like other young athletes who want to keep their competitive edge, many of the surfers never stopped training as the pandemic stretched on and on.

“I felt like all my hard work had paid off. I never stopped,” Lindblad said. “Since we haven’t competed in a year, it just felt extra special to take away a win in the first event back.”

Andrea Swayne, USA Surfing chief operating officer, said it was apparent the kids had kept their skill levels high.

“By the show of the talent we saw, the kids have continued to grow even though we hadn’t been competing,” she said. “It was really great to see.”

Lindblad was a stand-out, dominating in the under 18 and under 16 division, Swayne said. “Her surfing was really, really on point. She just really dazzled, both days.”

USA Surfing coach Brett Simpson did a training session before the contest with the USA National Junior team, which in 2019 took home gold during the International Surfing Association Junior World Championships.

Their growth was apparent not just in their surf skills, Swayne said.

“Not seeing many of the kids myself for the year – I almost didn’t recognize some of them,” she said. “But seeing them back, most of them on new equipment, you can see by their body language and style, these were the same kids, but much improved as athletes.”



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