East meets West in the USA Surfing Prime Junior Event
File photo

Gazing out across the emerald waters, the turbines quietly churning away, the air seems to have a different feel. Whispers of cooler days to come, mornings with the promise of favorable winds, ideal surf and — along with it —those who seek to gain all that the sea has to offer.

It’s autumn — not only is it the season for PSLs and hay rides, but also the season of the last bit of warm water and fun surf before winter makes its inevitable debut.

And folks come from all over to join in the fun.

“We’ve actually been coming to the Outer Banks since 2010,” says Greg Cruse, executive director for USA Surfing, which is based in San Clemente, California.

Each year, three or four events are held on the East Coast, one of which takes place at Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head.

“The events are held for the best surfers under 18,” Cruse says. “It really is a great way for kids to surf against their peers with a high skill level and in a setting with better judges.”

From Oct. 31 through Nov. 3, three team members from the West Coast meet up with 10 East Coaster for training with their coach, along with 90 boys and girls who will take part in the competition.

The goal? “To prepare the kids for the next level of surfing,” Cruse asys. “The competition is comprised of 20-minute, 4-person heats, where a priority system is used and there is also pro announcing and computer scoring.”

The top kids will then qualify for the USA Surfing Championship at Lower Trestles in California. From there its on to the Junior Surf Team which is an Olympic development program.

“When kids have talent at this level, it becomes a very mental game.”

While physical training is crucial, surfing on a competitive, professional or Olympic level requires much more.

“We make sure the kids know how to approach a competition and learn how to adjust on the fly,” he says. “You can’t just go out there and catch a ton of waves, you have to be mindful and not get rattled.”

While the kids are soaking in all the mentoring and fine tuning their team work skills, the coaches make sure nobody forgets what surfing is all about.

“It’s exciting,” Cruse shares with a smile. “Progression and creativity are also aspects we encourage the kids to surf with.”

Started in 2008, USA Surfing came about as a means for now pro surfers Courtney Conlogue and Kolohe Andino to have a more competitive framework.

“The world of surfing went through a phase where we had almost no US World Tour surfers outside of your veterans, like Kelly Slater and the Hobgoods,” Cruse says. “Since the inception of the program, we now have a whole new young generation of surfers who have incredible talent.”

One such young lady, Caroline Marx, who at the age of 15 will be the youngest ever to make the World Tour.

What to look for next?

Surfing in the 2020 Olympics.

“We have gold medal dreams,” Cruse says.

“The USOC is identifying the top athletes for our team so keep a look out for John John Florence, Kolohe Andino, Carissa Moore and Courtney Conlogue.”

In the mean time, the team plans to continue honing their skills, building character and enjoying some East Coast waves.

“We love coming to the Outer Banks: the variety of breaks, the culture, the beauty,” Cruse says. “It truly is a special place.”

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