Curren is the most visible graduate of this program. But it has had other successes. Mike Parsons, freckle-faced, clean-cut and polite, is the Richie Cunningham of the tour and currently ranks sixth on the ASP points list. David Eggers, 16, is the youngest pro on the tour. Jeff (Chongo) Booth, the 1985 U.S. amateur champ, is a 4.0 student at Laguna Beach High, though he still cuts classes if the waves are inviting.
But Curren remains the idol of the young surfers, the so-called "gremmies." Says Cairns, "He has an incredible influence. The 11-and 12-year-old kids in the boys' division have career goals. They're bloody professionals."
Curren warily paddles around the riptide of success. "Curren has one thing on his mind: to be the best surfer on the water," Buran says. "It's been the one thing on his mind since he was 12."
On Saturday, in the second round of the Op, the champ faced Brad Gerlach, a 20-year-old Southern Californian who has finished second three times this year and who currently stands second in the ASP rankings.
Curren and Gerlach are radical opposites. Curren finished high school and was a star in the NSSA. He was married when he was 18. Gerlach was kicked out of high school (although he has since enrolled in junior college), dropped by the NSSA and is not particularly modest about his successes with women. (He says that the ability—and need—to memorize four new phone numbers a day has helped him pick up foreign languages when he is overseas.)
And while Curren is Terse Tommy, Rad Brad is brashly outspoken. Follow this stream of unconsciousness: "I trip over my feet when I walk. I can dance and I can surf. I can move to a rhythm. We dance out there. We defy antigravity situations. We ride the end of storms that rip up the earth and tear up houses. Then we come back on land and tell people about it. It's pretty neat. It's kind of like Atlantis."
Gerlach grew up around water. His mother, Cheryl, was a professional water-skier. His father, Joe, was a platform diver who defected from Hungary at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, where he finished fourth.
"I threw Brad off a high board when he was 14 months old," Joe says. "When he came up, he said, 'More,' before he had even taken a breath."
Saturday's spectators watched Gerlach battle Curren in the most anticipated heat of the day. It was close through three waves, each surfer taking two solid though unspectacular rides before Curren was dumped and Gerlach had a wave die on him. Then Gerlach, with priority to take the first wave, scrambled after another one that died.
"That was the mistake of the heat," Gerlach said. "I don't know why I did it. I just paddled into it. Maybe I was a little anxious." Curren followed on the next wave, a strong one, had two spectacular vertical reentries, and the heat was his.