O'Neill Cold Water Classic Keeps It Classy

Miller/ Courtesy O'Neill

Last year, the O'Neill Coldwater Classic was an ASP World Tour event for surfers with big-time sponsor contracts. This yearLast year, the O'Neill Coldwater Classic was an ASP World Tour event for surfers with big-time sponsor contracts. This year it will

No sponsor? No problem.

Pro surfers on the ASP World Tour never get lonely. How can you when you're traveling with your coach, your team manager, your filmer, your PR buddy, and possibly your shaper? Throw in a girlfriend or wife and a couple of kids, and you're no longer renting a car when you get off the plane, but hiring a small bus. And the sponsor picks up the tab.

The kids who win World Junior titles, have already been coached for a few years, can pull an air reverse off a boat wake, and are cracking the ASP's top 100 don't have to sweat board bag fees either. Of course, that changes depending on the socioeconomic region of the world they're from. The lower ranks have to strategically plan which string of Primes and star events are the most cost effective to enter. They have to keep photo trips within their allotted travel budget. But the shape of the adhesives adorning their sticks and wide brim hats still ensure that they don't have to bang nails or bus tables. That's the reality of pro surfing today -- for the men anyway. (Some women have to start Kickstarter campaigns to qualify.) Hence, everyone takes the same road to the same destination.

That's why the O'Neill Coldwater Classic (held Nov. 6-10) is going to be so interesting this year. The famed event with a rich 30-year history will play host to only "unsponsored pro surfers."

"O'Neill is extremely excited to be supporting athletes who may be considered underdogs. Helping surfers who've paid their dues, chase the dream of qualifying is good for our sport," said O'Neill Wetsuits' Director of Marketing Brian Kilpatrick. That term in itself is an oxymoron. If a surfer doesn't have a sponsor, is he a pro? He could compete and win money, but then why wouldn't he be sponsored?

There are pro surfers who don't compete, making a living from their mere presence in photo and video freesurfs. And there are tons of surfers with boards full of stickers who don't get paid anything more than the free shwag they hock on eBay. So this is going to be interesting on all levels.

"Once a surfer has graduated from the Surfing America and NSSA programs, they're just kind of out there without a home," explains O'Neill Wetsuits director of marketing, Shane Skelton, "And it's like 'what now?' For some it's time to thing about going to college and/or getting a job."

Some work in the surf industry, but most fall outside of it. They all have a different story. This is an ASP sanctioned event, although there will be no points awarded. But the winner of this year's Coldwater Classic will no longer be an unsponsored surfer, as O'Neill will throw the man who finishes on the top of the heap onto the team this year and add a $50,000 travel budget.

"We're going along the guidelines of surfers with minimal to no sponsorship -- guys who definitely don't have a full ride. But we wanted to keep it in the Top 200 so these are guys who can get into some QS events."

No one else gets a dime.

So, who can we expect to see battling for waves off the famed cliffs? Heath Joske is currently working on a shrimp boat in South Australia, but will try to swing it. Californians Nate Yeomens and Cory Arrambide could get one of O'Neill's golden tickets. Hawaii has more talent than the industry can support. Expect to see Hank Gaskell, Ola Eleogram and Gavin Gillette in wetsuits and jerseys come November.

There will be four wildcard slots determined by video submission. Any surfer can upload a 30 second to one-minute action video. The top eight selected will be voted on by the public.

And of course there will be one Santa Cruz wildcard.

"Gotta keep Santa Cruz happy," says Skelton.

O'Neill will also host the Ratboy Rampage, an homage to hometown hero and future-forward 90s surfer, Jason "Ratboy" Collins for the local kids under 18. Both events run November 6-10.

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