SANTA CRUZ — A shorter, sweeter version of the O’Neill Coldwater Classic came to Steamer Lane on Wednesday, providing a full day of clean waves and a new chapter in one 25-year-old’s professional surfing career.
Torrey Meister, from Hawaii’s big island, has not had a major sponsor in three years before his Coldwater win Wednesday. Pocketing $50,000 for a year-long sponsorship with O’Neill, Meister can now afford to travel the world for qualifier surf contests to try to make surfing’s elite World Tour.
“I didn’t know what next year was going to be like,” Meister said. “But now I kind of do.”
This year’s contest was a low-key affair compared with last year’s blowout World Tour event. In a new concept, the event pitted 16 invited surfers against each other to compete for a yearlong sponsorship.
Although event organizers had until Sunday to run the event, they finished it Wednesday because of favorable surf conditions.
The field included Santa Cruz natives Shaun Burns and Noi Kaulukukui, as well as competitors from Australia like Dion Atkinkson and Shaun Joubert from South Africa.
In clean, head-high waves, Burns and Kaulukukui won their first heats.
After Burns kicked out of a wave near the rocks, spectators on the cliff above felt the ocean spray.
“Burns!” some of them yelled in support. A 21-year-old who now attends Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Burns surfed with effortless style but fell to eventual finalist Wade Carmichael of Australia.