Nuuhiwa, hump-shouldered, relaxed, a rider who does not care to share waves with anyone else, sat aloof, farther out than the others, staring moodily at the sea. Sensing something in the water nobody else could see, he suddenly wheeled around and began paddling furiously toward the beach. The wave swelled under him, and just as it began to break he leaped up, stepped out to the nose of his board and posed, his back to the curl, like a matador turning his back on the bull. The temptation is strong to look over your shoulder and see what the wave is up to. Nuuhiwa didn't. He arched, balanced and relaxed, and rode the wave until it finally caught up, swirling first over the back of the board, then climbing around his ankles and pulling him off into the soup.
The championship was now revolving around the opposing styles of such leaders as Nuuhiwa and Young, a battle of watery boxers against sluggers, and this was the high point for those who prefer finesse. Nuuhiwa, who stands in an easy, hips-forward attitude, always looking, even on land, as though he is poised for flight, is the best boxer in the game.
"This whole thing is much more than hot-dogging," he says. "You must try to blend into the wave. You match the wave's movements, you become part of it. There is a feeling of poetry; you feel it inside you. It is a form of, say, dancing. I don't dance on land, but I dance out there."
Young, whose coach describes him as a reformed 18-year-old hell-raiser, leads surfing's other school. Its motto is Charge! "I have just one theme," Young says. "I respect the ocean, all right. But I want to beat it. I don't want to blend in with anything. I think the surfer should be the master. A lot of them strike fancy poses instead of getting involved with the wave. I pick my wave and nothing else matters. Style is only 10%. A good surfer should be able to ride anything. With the Australians, a wave is a wave.
"When I found out I had won the contest too early, I offered to throw away all the points and surf against everybody all over again, winner take all. But they preferred we keep quiet about it."
Through it all, the beach grew steadily more crowded with golden, tanned, tender young things—the girls the surfers call bubble-gummers, long, blonde hair to their shoulders, big eyes and little bathing suits, with slogans on them like "This Seat Is Taken" and "Remember the Mann Act."
By Sunday afternoon it was over. Nat Young, the charger, had his champion's trophy. Joyce Hoffman had hers. And Kathy Lacroix, of Jacksonville, Fla., a member of the U.S. East Coast team, had the right words for the whole week. Swinging her hair around and flashing a smile that could stun a man across 40 feet of ocean, she said, "Like, I mean, isn't this really nice? I mean, oh God, they're all so nice to us here in San Diego and they are taking care of us and all. I mean, I think they have finally realized that surfers are people."