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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, July 20, 2003

Ex-world champ Keaulana captures longboard event

By Baxter Cepeda
Advertiser Staff Writer

Kapono Nahina rides his way to a third-place finish in the Hawaiian Longboard Federation event.
Rusty Keaulana had all the right moves on the 2- to 4-foot waves at Ala Moana Bowls.

Photos by Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

Experience and patience are a good combination for surfing success.

Three-time former world champion Rusty Keaulana used a wait-for-the-good-ones strategy as he defended the professional title of the Strong Current at the Bowl longboard surfing contest yesterday in 2- to 4-foot waves at Ala Moana Bowls.

"I was lucky — I just got the right waves," said Keaulana, who earned $600 for winning the four-man final. "You have to manage to get the right maneuvers at the right time with the (small) waves out there."

Not many thought that luck played a big factor for Keaulana.

"He did the best on them (waves)," said Kapono Nahina, who won $250 for finishing third. "He was just really good out there — nobody could touch him."

The event is the third of five contests in the Hawaiian Longboard Federation's 2003 Steinlager Series. Competition in the amateur divisions will continue today.

Contestants are rewarded on a 50-50 basis — traditional moves (nose-rides) count for half, while progressive moves make up the other half — but small waves made judges lean more on traditional moves.

Keaulana adapted to the change.

"I just tried to do what I was supposed to do," he said.

Offshore breezes, although somewhat strong, helped provide long, rippable waves.

Kekoa Auwae, who leads the $10,000 pro division sponsored by Hawai'i Pacific University, won $200 for finishing fourth. He has made the final in all three events this season.

Auwae is not ready to guarantee the overall victory.

"Anything can happen," he said. "There are really good surfers that can catch up in one event."

The other three finalists from yesterday are not in contention for the series championship because they are not HLF members.

Ezra Rodrigues, who said Bowls is his home spot, had arguably the best wave of the final heat but finished second.

"I'm stoked to finish behind Rusty," said Rodrigues, who won $350. "That's an honor."

Rodrigues added that he finished second because he rode waves all the way inside, was consistent and, like Keaulana, did what the judges were looking for.

Rodrigues also commended Auwae, whom he grew up with, for his success this season.

"He's a good competitor," Rodrigues said. "Consistency, hard work, and he is just super-focused."

Rodrigues is not alone in his assessment of Auwae.

"Kekoa is a really good surfer," said Keaulana, who regularly surfs with Auwae on the Wai'anae coast. "It's awesome to see him in all the finals that he is in."

Keaulana has not ruled out a return to the World Longboard Tour (WLT), which he left after his son was born two years ago. Many of the other top Hawai'i competitors are at a WLT contest in France this weekend.

He added that the back injury he suffered in 1997 still acts up at times, but had no part in his break from the tour and wouldn't prevent him from a return.

But, for now, he said: "I'm just cruising for a little while ... trying to raise a family."

Besides, what more is there for him to prove?

"I did my thing," Keaulana said. "I don't know what else I have to do.

"What they (surfers on the tour) are doing now is catching up."