Last Saturday, Ben Coffey, a 14-year-old straight-A high school freshman from Santa Cruz, California, rode his bike down to Steamer Lane (the renown surf break that will play host to an ASP World Tour contest in a few months) to try out a new brand new board that his dad, Ward Coffey, the well-known surfboard shaper, made for him.
The waves were only knee high, with a few bigger sets occasionally rolling through. The lineup was crowded; there were roughly 30 people out there. On Ben's way out, someone on the beach casually mentioned that some sort of contest was going on.
It was The Bum Rush Tour, to be exact, a contest series with a unique set of rules. In Bum Rush there are no qualifiers or entry fees or applications to be filled out. There's no real heat structure, either. The judges simply stand on the beach and watch the action in the water (everyone becomes a contestant). After 20 minutes, they pick a winner.
Ben connected on a a number of long rides, carving out graceful turns. "I was still feeling out the board, so I really wasn't pushing it," he says. But according to one account, a few of those rides were so long that instead of paddling back out to the lineup Ben elected to run along the beach and paddle straight out to the top of the point.
Eventually one of the judges picked up a bullhorn and called Coffey out of the water. He walked up the beach and stood on a rock. Some guys sprayed him down with sparkling apple cider and handed him a big cardboard check for $1,000, which Ben says he'll use to pay for a surf trip to some place with warm water.
Ben Coffey's surf pedigree is well worth mentioning. His dad, Ward, surfed professionally for a short time before he started shaping surfboards for a living in 1980. Ward shapes a few hundred boards a year. A handful go to Ben and his brother, but otherwise, Ward seems to be a pretty hands-off dad, not one of those "Little League Dads," who stand on the beach recording their kids' surf sessions and shouting instructions.
"You teach them to surf by teaching them how to have fun in the water. By teaching them to read the ocean -- how to get tumbled and come back up."
"You teach them to surf by teaching them how to have fun in the water," says Ward. "By teaching them to read the ocean -- how to get tumbled and come back up."
Ward's wife, Ben's mom, is a surfer, too, and so it seemed only natural that Ben would shred.
Ben started on a boogie board then moved to a soft-top surf board. Now Ben shreds the Lane on an entire quiver of custom boards. But Ward says the biggest factor behind Ben's development is a gang of friends: "The critical thing is you get all of these kids together and they just push themselves harder and farther than I ever could."
Part of that push has come from three years of surfing on his school team. This is Ben's first year of competition on the National Scholastic Surf Association (NSSA) circuit. The day after winning the Bum Rush event, Ben caught a ride to compete in an NSSA event. He had been to the finals a few times, and on Sunday he paddled out for his heats, feeling especially confident. He made the finals and collected his first win.
The next day at school, Ben was the center of attention. His buddies were all a little jealous, a little miffed over Ben's weekend success and that humongous $1,000 check.
"None of them were out surfing the Lane that day," says Ben. "When I told them what happened they were all like, 'Man, I wish I'd been there.'"