Game on

The National Surf League’s California Cup makes a four-day stop at Leo Carrillo, bringing with it some serious surfing talent. After four straight losses to start the season, the L.A. Arc Angels win its first ever California Cup match Sunday afternoon.

By Stephen Dorman / Special to The Malibu Times

With the National Hockey League season on ice and both the Lakers and Clippers wrapping up disappointing campaigns, some Los Angeles sports fans may be in dire need of a team to root for. Well, look no further than the National Surf League’s Los Angeles Arc Angels, a squad comprised of 20 of the finest surfers in the county, including several young rippers who hail from the shores of Malibu.

The Arc Angels are one of five California-based surf squads-along with the Santa Cruz Stormriders, Ventura Pelicanos, Orange County Octopus and San Diego Sea Lions-currently competing in the 2005 Quicksilver California Cup and its unique competition format called The Game.

Developed by former professional surfer Brad Gerlach and his father, Joe Gerlach, The Game is a team-orientated surf competition loosely based on golf’s Ryder Cup (where team scoring is of utmost importance) and professional basketball (four quarters of play). Each team has a total of 20 surfers, with four competing at a time in 12 to 15 minute quarters. Each surfer has his best wave scored and each team receives a total score for the quarter. The team with the highest cumulative score at the end of four quarters is declared the winner.

“I think the basic concept is unbelievable,” said O.C. team member Pat O’Connell, a 13-year surfing professional who starred in Bruce Brown’s 1994 film, “The Endless Summer II.” “When you’re free surfing with your friends, you want someone to be cheering you into a wave. That’s how it is here. The worst part about a normal competition is that you’re sitting out there competing against [your friends]. It almost goes against what you’re really out there to do.”

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In 2002, the first Game took place in Cardiff, Calif., between San Diego and Orange County. A year later, the competition was introduced to a national audience at the X Games. And in April of 2004, the NSL held its first California Cup competition, then a four-team event. The Arc Angels were introduced as an expansion team following the cup’s inaugural season.

“All we do is the X Games and the California Cup right now,” said Jeff Cutler, vice president of the NSL. “However, as we grow, we’ll scale into international events, celebrity events and specialty events like high school competitions. The beauty of the NSL is kind of the scalability of the business. Currently, we have the professional element, but it only makes sense to go all the way down to what we call the AYSO, American Youth Surfing Organization, for community- based leagues.”

Last Thursday through Sunday, the Arc Angels hosted their first home matches at Leo Carrillo State Beach. The four-day event attracted a bevy of world famous surfers to Leo’s rocky right point break.

“I’ve never surfed out here before. I actually just paddled out for my first session about an hour ago,” said Chris Ward, 26, of Orange County, prior to his team’s match against the Arc Angels Friday afternoon. “The waves look great right now though. It’s about two to three [feet] and just zipping down the point.”

Ward is currently ranked 40th on the World Championship Tour, the highest level of professional surfing, one spot behind Octopus team member Timmy Reyes (No. 39 overall), who also competed in Friday’s match. With talent like that, it’s no wonder Orange County is the defending California Cup champions.

Like expansion teams in many other professional sports leagues, the Arc Angels have struggled in its inaugural season. On Thursday, they were narrowly defeated, 106.5 to 101.25, by the Stormriders. A day later, the Octopus defeated Los Angeles, 124.5 to 114.25, in overtime.

“The overtime didn’t go right, but I thought the game itself was really well surfed by some rookie guys and our local kids,” said L.A. head coach Mike Lamm following Friday’s defeat.

Three Malibu residents who played critical roles in the Arc Angels’ near upset of the defending champs were Pascal Stansfield, Anthony Petruso and Jordan Tappis.

“Having the local advantage probably paid off a little bit,” said the 23-year-old Petruso.

Added Stansfield, “We have all of our friends down here supporting us. There’s nothing better than that. I haven’t done a contest in Malibu with any interest at all within the last five or six years. This contest is the best thing to happen here in awhile.”

Local fans finally had a reason to celebrate over the weekend. After the Arc Angels dropped their third straight decision, 95.75 to 92, to the San Diego Sea Lions in sub-par surf on Saturday, they rebounded by defeating the Pelicanos, 103 to 93.75, Sunday afternoon for their first ever California Cup victory.

Santa Cruz currently leads the season series with a 4-1 overall record. San Diego is in second at 2-0, followed by Orange County (1-1) and L.A. (1-4). Ventura is in last place with a mark of 0-2. The next Game will be hosted by the Sea Lions April 20-24 in Oceanside. More information and updated scores can be obtained by visiting the Web site, www.nslgame.com.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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