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Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Keeping it Cosmic

Donavon Frankenreiter
Host, mastermind, competitor, and entertainer, Donavon Frankenreiter wears a lot of hats at the Cosmic Creek Challenge.

It's hard to figure that 13 years ago, when Billabong's Cosmic Creek Challenge first started, that it would be what it is today, or that it would still be even running. Conceived by the maestro of crappy equipment, Donavon Frankenreiter and his longtime friend and co-conspirator Eric Diamond, the initial concept was to bring a bunch of old single-fins and twinnies down to Salt Creek, mainly ones that were cluttering up their garages, run a few heats and see how his friends fared on them. Simple and groovy enough.

"I was into riding these old boards, and I just thought it'd be a lot of fun to get everybody out on them," reminisced Frankenreiter from behind his bushy mustache.

But today, while still retaining all of its grassroots radness, it's grown into something much more. This year's installment of the Cosmic Creek Challenge saw characters and charlatans like three-time world champ Tom Curren, women's ASP World Tour star Courtney Conolgue, aerial pioneer Christian Fletcher, Jeff Booth, Pat O'Connell, and Aussie freesurfer Wade Goodall all come down to Salt Creek in south Orange County and, as they say, give it a go.

Ever since the late Larry "Flame" Moore started putting his images of surfers pulling into Salt Creek closeouts on the cover of Surfing magazine, the place has been a hotbed of talent. It produced "Endless Summer II" star and former world tour combatant Pat O'Connell, Frankenreiter sprouted his first 'stache on the sand there, and today it's Tyler "Pickle" Warren, who created the artwork for this year's event, that's shaking things up. With his artistic talent and a penchant for shaping and riding exceptionally unique boards, the saga continues at Creek.

Tom Curren
Curren's been on a bit of a role lately, first the Maldives, then an event at Malibu, and now the Cosmic Creek Challenge, and no matter how much you get to watch him surf, it never gets old.

"It's not always the best wave around," said O'Connell before his heat, "but there's usually something to ride, and it just seems to be one of those beaches where local kids get together and feed off each other. Looks fun enough out there today, a little windswell, a little south bump, good enough."

Holding down a vice president position at Hurley today, in a week's time O'Connell will play host to the Hurley Pro at Lower Trestles. The ASP's top 32 will march into town and the world title race will continue to percolate. The Cosmic Creek Challenge couldn't be any further from that.

The format is simple, one round rides single-fins, the next round rides twin-fins and it continues to alternate as such until a winner is declared. The catch is that nobody, not even Tom Curren, gets to use their own equipment. Numbers are drawn from a hat, and then before every heat boards are selected from a rack full of old beaters, classic shapes, dogs and magic carpets. When it comes to the selection process, the key is to understanding how the board fits into its respective era and how it should be ridden. When it comes to judging, style counts just as much as performance ... which has always been a mainstay in Frankenreiter's aquatic act.

And so, under sunny summer skies and with rippable little three-foot wedges popping up at Middles, the 13th annual Cosmic Creek Challenge was held this past weekend. It'd be fair to say there are no winners and losers, since just going out and trying to make sense of a Stussy-shaped twinnie or Carl Hayward fish is enough fun, but when you start throwing world champs and tour surfers in the mix, obviously competitive juices are going to bubble up.

Cosmic Creek Finalists
It was an eclectic grouping in the final, with Aussie Wade Goodall running away with first, Courtney Conlogue taking second, Tom Curren in third and local salt David Giddings rounding things out.

"It's all for fun," told Curren, who's obviously finding some kind of competitive form after his recent stint in the Maldives, then another event at Malibu, and now this.

Or is it? In the pro division everybody seemed to be pushing and soul-arching pretty hard through their heats. Fletcher was constantly on the hunt for an air section, but it's hard to punt on a single-fin. Frankenreiter applied his trademark bottom-turn to great effect, and young pups like Warren, Goodall and Conlogue got into the groove with well groomed wraps into cheater-fives on the inside sandbar. All told, it was good fun, but by the time the final rolled around it was Goodall, Conlogue, Curren and local boy David Giddings that were left standing. Goodall would roll through for what might be his first contest win in years, Conlogue proved the girl's got serious soul as she took second, and Curren and Giddings rounded out the final, respectfully.

"It's definitely a challenge on those boards, but to get to surf a final with these surfers and to get to ride all these different boards that span all these different era, it's been epic," told an elated Goodall.

As soon as the final ended Donavon plugged in for a free concert on the grassy knoll above Salt Creek. The hill was packed, the place was rocking, and seemed like everybody from grommets to old salty dogs were out doing the hippy shake until the sun dipped into the Pacific. As far as surf contests go, the Cosmic Creek Challenge is as groovy as you're going to get, and that's something we could all use a little more of.