Local surfer club teams head down under for competition

Huntington Surf and Sport owner Aaron Pai speaks during a send off of the Huntington Beach Board Riders Club on Saturday Jan. 14, 2023 before they head to the Gold Coast of Australia to compete the Usher Cup, an international surf club competition at Snapper Rocks. (Photo courtesy of Ron Lyon/West Coast Board Riders)

Major bragging rights are on the line.

A handful of California surfers – a group from Huntington Beach and another from Santa Cruz – are heading to Australia to battle it out in an international competition at the world-famous Snapper Rock – it’s an event that draws surf clubs from around the world.

This will be the first time the U.S. Board Riders Clubs is sending teams to compete in the global event; they were invited by world champion Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew to be part of the Usher Cup 2023, which hosts 23 Australian clubs and eight international clubs.

The four-day competition runs from Jan. 19 through Jan. 22.

The teams are made up of three male surfers and one female surfer who represent their individual clubs. The competition format is based on highest individual score, highest club score and expression sessions.


Huntington Beach’s team has been the West Coast Board Riders champions three times and the Santa Cruz crew is the northern division champions.

The San Clemente team won the national championships last year at Lower Trestles, but the team’s surfers had too many prior obligations to make the pilgrimage to Australia for the Usher Cup.

Huntington Beach’s team includes Sara Freyre, Kolby Aipa, Luke Guinaldo, coach and competitor Jeff Deffenbaugh and team captains Billy Webb and Chris Moreno.

The Santa Cruz Board Riders team includes Eden Edwards, Ben Coffey, Austin Smith-Ford, Randy Bonds and team captain Christina LoFranco.

Moreno, co-founder of the U.S. Board Riders Clubs, said the team from Surf City is strong. Freyre is a US Nationals junior champion, Aipa comes from a long lineage of well-known surfers and Guinaldo has 2-million-plus followers on social media. Deffenbaugh is a former world-tour surfer and one of the most accomplished to ever come out of Huntington Beach, Moreno said.

“They are all A-plus surfers,” Moreno said.

The West Coast Board Riders was founded in 2016 by Moreno and friends Casey Wheat and Ziggy Williams as a way to unite city surf clubs through friendly – yet fierce – competition.

Word spread and other cities wanted to create their own and soon surf clubs started popping up in beach towns up and down the California coast and then across the country.

Moreno said he’s blown away at how fast the clubs in the United States have grown, with 50 throughout the entire country, including 17 on the West Coast and 25 on the East Coast.

“It was a combination of timing, hard work and luck,” he said of the growth. “With surfing in the Olympics, it’s no longer a sport in the shadows.”

Surfing is typically an individual sport – but the community clubs bring people together.



“Now, it brings generation after generation together, you have 7-year-olds and 70-year-olds,” Moreno said. “The younger generation is getting first-hand knowledge from their elders and actually learning the history of each city’s cultural history directly from the guys who lived that history.”

The clubs also host beach cleanups and lifesaving clinics.

“Competing is something we do,” Moreno said, “but it’s not who we are.”

Wheat, who died in 2020 and that same year was inducted into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame, said in a past interview he had been inspired by the 200 or so surf clubs around Australia that hold competitions, mostly for bragging rights.

In Australia, the clubs have been around since the 1960s and surfers the likes of former World Tour competitors Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson regularly compete for their local clubs to prove which region is best.

The Aussie, have home surf advantage and “they have more world champions than anyone. All of those pros, retired pros, surf for their clubs,” Moreno said, acknowledging the American teams are the “newbies” and a lot of the trip will be for research – but don’t count them out, he said.

“I feel like we, the U.S., have a good chance of doing very well,” he said. “I think we are very well represented and we are going there to win.”

Teammates will be cheering from home, watching the action from a live stream.

Two-time US Open of Surfing champ and Huntington Beach Boardriders Club member Brett Simpson said the team has been great for the town’s camaraderie. Simpson and the Pai Family, owners of Huntington Surf and Sport, helped host a send off on Saturday, Jan. 14, just before the team jetted to the airport for Australia.

“The goal is to bring the community together,” Simpson said.


Original Story available from Orange County Register – Written By LAYLAN CONNELLY | lconnelly@scng.com | Orange County Register


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