By Friday evening, with two big days yet to go in the contest, the point system made it clear that the new world champion had already been picked. Nuuhiwa had gotten the best ride, but anyone who studied the scorecards could see that Australia's Nat Young had won the most points—early and easily. Similarly, it appeared that nobody could beat Joyce Hoffman of the U.S. out of the women's title.
The situation created quite an inside crisis. Officials conducted some secret meetings, and decided, since the spectators probably were more interested in surfing than scoring anyway, that the contest would run through its normal paces and on Sunday the winner would be—surprise!—Nat Young.
The countries involved, figuring that one day all this will be straightened out, went along with the plan. Everyone arranged his face into a fiercely competitive look and the pretend contest went on as scheduled.
But Thursday had been the best day. It began when the contestants poured into La Jolla Shores Beach. La Jolla Shores is a settled, neatly rich community with a geriatric golf club, a couple of honest-to-goodness tearooms and several white-haired people walking rheumatic dachshunds. Into this serene setting came the lively ones, breathing vigor. There were such notables as Hoffman, who is blonde and 19 and the best woman surfer anywhere; Nat Young and Midget Farrelly of Australia; Paul Strauch and Jock Sutherland of Hawaii (which had its own team); France's national champion, Jean Marie Lartigau, the pride of Biarritz; plus Mike Doyle, Corky Carroll and Nuuhiwa, of the U.S.
"This is the World Series of surf, baby," said one official.
In spite of the scoring complications, the idea of picking a world champion is simple enough. The judges, all surfers themselves, sit on the beach in folding chairs, their bare feet dug into the wet sand, and watch the action. So they could successfully grade everyone, they sent the surfers into the sea in heats of five each. At the toot of a horn the competitors had 15 minutes to surf, catching any waves they chose. All their rides were judged, and the five highest scores counted.
By midday it was clear just how tough the competition would be. The surf rolled in fast, three-foot breaks (a wave is measured from its trough to peak), punctuated with an occasional four-footer. Each wave had a tendency to collapse, leaving the surfer knee-deep in roiling foam.
"This is tough," said Corky Carroll, a tousled blond with surfing bone spurs on each leg, which make him look like he has four kneecaps. "You've got to do something out there to impress the judges. I mean, you can't just stand there and look dumb."
Suddenly the surf stopped. The scouts, prepared for this sort of thing, found it had popped up sharply at South Mission Beach, with biting rollers five and six feet high that curled over neatly at the top.
The judges folded their chairs, a moving van was loaded with boards, a caravan of cars and one rumbling bus started up, and the world championship headed off to South Mission. There, in the slanting afternoon sun, with surf hammering against a stone jetty, the contest took on many of the daring aspects of a rodeo. In came Strauch, pouring through a five-foot surf with his back to the breaking wave, foam churning up around his shoulders, yet somehow riding the thing, swinging easily back and forth. Then Young, a strong lad whose stomach muscles look like interlaced fingers, began catching waves in his own Australian way: riding them to the top of the shoulder, his eyes full of spray, looking quickly along both sides, then standing and powering his way through.