Steamer Lane, simply “The Lane” to many locals, is one of Santa Cruz’s most visited surf spots. And for this reason, it comes as no surprise that this will be where the world-renowned O’Neill Cold Water Classic and accompanying Oakley Pro Junior’s competition will kick off on Nov. 2.
Over 170 surfers, many of whom are top-rated, will be competing in the week long event. Mark Prefontaine, who is the marketing manager for O’Neill Inc. and helped run the competition from 2001 to 2008, says that this year’s competitions will feature even more talented participants than in past years. He said the increase in talented participiants is due to the Cold Water Classic becoming a six-star prime event, the highest level of competition in the World Qualifying Series (WQS).
“Up until this year the Coldwater Classic had a four-star rating,” Prefontaine said. “But the six-star rating is the highest possible and allows for the best of the best to come out and surf because it gives more incentives to the surfers by awarding them with more points for the circuit.”
The Cold Water Classic started in Santa Cruz in 1987 and has since grown steadily to become one of Northern California’s most premier annual surf competitions. This year the competition went global, making stops in Australia, Scotland, South Africa and Canada.
“What we wanted to do was to take the idea of surfing in cold water, much like in Santa Cruz, and apply it globally,” Prefontaine said. “People have heard of the endless summer; surfing in warm water has been done. We wanted to flip that idea and chase winter instead.”
Santa Cruz is the final stop for the event, and is the place where the winner from all the stops overall will be crowned and awarded the $50,000 prize. Prefontaine believes it is fitting that the competition will end where it originally began and where O’Neill first began operating.
“We wanted to bring the event back to its roots at the end and award the winner there where the event originally began,” Prefontaine said.
The competition this year is thick with big names like Jordy Smith, Tim Reyes and Cory Lopez. Many locals, however, seem especially excited to see last year’s Cold Water Classic winner and local golden boy Nat Young compete in the tournament.
“It’s an awesome tournament! [I’m] really hoping to see Nat Young go home the winner again, too,” said Max Tom, a local, UC Santa Cruz alum and surfing fan.
Prefontaine said that Young definitely has a chance of repeating his success from last year.
“Nat is phenomenal, he has the skills to win this thing again,” Prefontaine said. “The Lane has such a weird wave and it takes time to pick up on its subtleties, but Nat has the edge in the fact that he is local and is able to surf there whenever.”
Los Gatos resident Brandon Balance went to the tournament last year and is looking forward to watching surfers ride the waves in ample company.
“It’s a huge tournament. The spot is filled with people. It’s really great and exciting to watch,” Balance said. “I’m definitely planning on going again this year.”
Prefontaine also believes that without the backing of Santa Cruz and the many Cold Water Classic fans, the tournament wouldn’t be what it is today.
“The Lane only hosts four contests a year, and it’s been really great to have the backing of the city to allow us to become consistently one of those contests,” Prefontaine said. “It’s important for us to have the relationship we have with the city because without it we couldn’t put on this event.”