Battle for The Queen: The 32nd Annual Rincon Classic Surf Contest

At the 2014 Classic,  pro division winner Kellen Elison snaps a picture-perfect backside hack.
At the 2014 Classic, pro division winner Kellen Elison snaps a picture-perfect backside hack. Aroyan
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Along the scenic shores of Santa Barbara, the wait has officially begun for one of California’s most prestigious surf contests. Better yet, the forecast charts for the North Pacific are lighting up with a series of strong west swells slated to find their way south in the coming days, all but guaranteeing that the 32nd Annual Rincon Classic will get the green light before the close of January.

"We are looking for the type of surf that we all hope for all winter long: big, clean, and crisp,” explains contest director Chris Keet. “And, as of right now, it sure looks like next weekend [January 24th and 25th] is going to do just that. Fingers crossed.”

Known locally as “The Classic”, the contest is held each winter at Rincon, the fabled point break at the southernmost end of Santa Barbara County that everyone likes to call “The Queen of the Coast”. The wave is a long and often perfect right-hander that is celebrated the world over and sought out regularly by both domestic and international wavesliders for its world class peelers.

Chris Keet, pictured here, has been producing the Rincon Classic for 16 years and counting.
Chris Keet, pictured here, has been producing the Rincon Classic for 16 years and counting. Aroyan

More to the point, The Classic is the only traditional surf contest held there each year. But this is no mainstream, heavily corporate affair with mega glitz and glam. It is a weekend-long, grassroots gathering of the Santa Barbara surf tribe, open to competitors of all ages who call the Santa Barbara area home. That’s right, if you don’t live in the 805 area code, then this event is a spectator-only situation. As Keet puts it, “This event is for us... From the little kids to the legends, we all know each other.”

Luckily, since the surrounding area has long been a hotbed of ripping surf talent, the contestant criteria does nothing to diminish the talent pool or the entertainment factor for the throngs of spectators on the beach. It is not uncommon for the field of competitors to include past, present, and future professional surfers, both male and female, in all age brackets, as well as a smattering of former World Champions like Tom Curren and Shaun Tomson.

“Sure, it’s local fish only, but it just so happens that the fish we produce in our local waters can swim alongside any of the big fish in the world,” says Keet with a laugh. “As of right now, we have at least six former ASP World Tour veterans in our Pro Division alone. Not many other surf towns could do that.”

This year, the always free and open to the public event has a few new tricks up its sleeve.

First off, the action will get underway on Friday afternoon. This has never happened before (typically, the event runs from sunup Saturday until sundown Sunday). But, because there's always a lengthy waiting list of competitors wanting to get in, Keet has expanded the early-round heats to allow for dozens of new surfers to enter the fray while also turning the contest into a three-day event.

Second, a new division named “King of the Queen” pits area surf shops against one another in the ultimate battle royale for bragging rights. Well-known stores like Channel Islands Surfboards, J7 Surfboards, and the Beach House will field teams of four and surf against each other both Saturday and Sunday afternoon in a unique tag-team format that's sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Not yet old enough to drive, Abby Brown got to share a wave with some real locals during last year's event, earning her a bit on the Today Show.
Not yet old enough to drive, Abby Brown got to share a wave with some real locals during last year's event, earning her a bit on the Today Show. Aroyan

Last, for the first time ever, there will be a shuttle bus, easing the parking nightmare at the state beach. Now, all you'll have to do is park nearby on Mark Avenue and hitch a ride to the beach in stress-free style. Once on scene, the experienced viewer knows to post up in the sandy river mouth just north of the judges' scaffolding for ample room to stretch out and enjoy the show.

Some of this year's bigger plot lines to keep an eye out for include 10x Women’s Champion Demi Boelsterli going for her unprecedented 11th title, the return of former Classic champion (and now North Shore of Oahu shaping legend) John Pyzel in the Grand Masters division, the always hotly contested men’s draw, the aforementioned “King of the Queen” heats at high noon on Saturday and Sunday, and, of course, the pro division heats Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon.

As of press time, it looks like the latter will include high-wattage surf stars Bobby Martinez, Dane Reynolds, Timmy Curran, Conner Coffin, and Kilian Garland, to name a few. And, as always, the Expression Session and Finals for all age groups will be going down mid- to late afternoon on Sunday, with the pro final popping off toward sunset.

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