Austin Keen Wins Oktoberfest – UST Stop #8

By Aaron Peluso

Orange county CA was in rare form the week leading up to the 8th Annual Exile/Main St. Oktoberfest.  Pumping 4-6 foot South swell that wouldn’t end came together flawlessly with 90 degree weather making for some of the best skimming of the entire year in Southern California.  Expectations were high for the weekend event that would take place at the tail end of the swell cycle.  Newport Beach came through and delivered some of the best contest conditions of the year, if not some of the best contest conditions in recent memory.

A Street in Balboa is an ideal spot for a skimboard contest.  It is exposed to both NW wind swell and South groundswell so that waves peak up and break in both directions when things go right.  The sand is steep and the water is often very fast.  There is plenty of parking and facilities and there are even dozens of local shops and eateries within walking distance so you don’t have to spend a day trapped on the beach.  There is a dedicated core group of local skimboarders as well as the Laguna Beach contingent right next door to the south.  So when everything comes together just right, it has a lot of potential.  I dare say that for the first time, this year Balboa really lived up to its potential (check the photos below as well as the UST video due next week to see what I mean).

This year we experimented with a new format for the professional division.  Instead of the standard 4-man and 3-man heats throughout the event, we made a decision to reduce the focus on 4-man and even 3-man heats through some novel (for skimboarding at least) seeding and bracketing.

The top eight UST ranked competitors were seeded out of the first round leaving the remaining 28 pros to battle their way through 7 four man heats, but without having to worry about the top ranked talent.  14 pros made it out of this round and were seeded into round 2 with the 5th -8th place UST pros.  Distributions into this and successive rounds were based on performance in the prior round (1st or 2nd place) and the entire contest was mapped out from that point on.  The second round of 3 man heats yielded 12 pros going to round two.  These were then distributed in with the top four UST ranked pros in eight man on man heats.  Winners from that point on moved horizontally across the board, in all 2-man heats until the final, which was also man on man.

Judging criteria was also changed. The top three waves counted (instead of five) and judging scores were to the nearest tenth of point (rather than half point). The result seemed to be well received by pros and fans alike.  Competitors could see who they might have to skim against in successive rounds.  Spectators and competitors only had to keep track of three waves in their head and riders were incentivized to go for bigger wave scores rather than for consistency, making it a lot more fun to watch (and skim?).  Further, while many heats were very very close, there were almost no tie-breakers due to the refined scoring with more definition for the tabulators.  Several heats were won by tenths of a point.  But they were won.  Not broken in a tie…

This by and large lead to happy pros… and when the pros get happy, the bar gets raised.

Competition was fierce throughout the event and there were standouts who didnt make it to the podium.  Jason Wilson out from Delaware skimmed a stellar first heat.  Local boys Omar Meddeb & Tommy D’eliscu, Hawaii’s David Sterman and North Carolina’s Shawn Kenny all put in standout perormances throughout the first few rounds.  But once it came down to those man on man heats there was no room for error… no hoping to get through the heat by getting second.  There was only one way forward and that was to beat the guy standing next to you.

Out of all the Round 3 man on man heats, the top ranked pros (seeded pros) made it to the next round with the exception of Morgan Just who drew the deceptively low ranked Austin Keen for his man on man.  Austin, who was fresh off his win in Santa Cruz was going to put up a fight against one of the best competitive skimboarders in the last decade.  Both skimmed well, but in the end Austin made it through by the slimmest of margins.

The final eight were also man on mans.

Jake Stinnett bested Blair Conklin
Perry Pruitt bested Teddy Vlasis
Austin Keen bested Omar Meddeb
Brandon Sears bested Tim Fulton

Then we were down to four and what would be a final in an ordinary contest.  But in this contest it was just a semi final, with three heats to go.

In Semi #1 North Carolina rookie Perry Pruitt edged out Laguna Beach local Jake Stinnett in a contentious heat.  In Semi #2 Austin Keen edged out Brandon Sears by literally one tenth of point on the defining scorecard.  Brandon, displaying epic sportsmanship was overheard saying “wow, I really should have done an extra shove it”.

So the final was then set. For the first time I can recall at a Southern California event, this final was between two riders who both learned their craft on the east coast.  Austin Keen who now lives in California now is originally from Georgia, while Perry Pruitt resides in North Carolina (though he promises to spend some more time in Laguna soon).  What transpired was once of the most technical and explosive final heats I have seen to date.  With both riders going for their second win of the season at the final event there was no holding back.  Standout waves by Perry were a 540 air and a 3-shuv to driving barrel.  However, almost all the judges agreed that Austin skimmed the better heat punctuated by a massive three-shuv out to a macking overhead wrap, as well as a huge shove it down by the pier.

Both seemed incredibly stoked on the result not to mention the best pro purse in Oktoberfest history.

The top eight broke down like this:

  1. Austin Keen
  2. Perry Pruitt
  3. Brandon Sears
  4. Jake Stinnett
  5. Teddy Vlasis
  6. Tim Fulton
  7. Blair Conklin
  8. Omar Meddeb

While I dont have time to cover the Amateur division in depth I want to give an honorable mention to 14 year old Jeremiah Sheldon who picked up not only the 12-14 division win but also took home the first place prize in the first ever Oktoberfest Semi-pro division!  Congrats Jeremiah!

Photos by Jaleesa Koevoet