UST Champion Gerardo Valencia Finishes Third as Blair Conklin and Sophia Nguyen Repeat their Wins in Newport Beach
The Exile Oktoberfest in Newport Beach, CA was held on September 25th and 26th on the south side of the Balboa Pier, one of the premier skimboard spots in Southern California. The Oktoberfest was the fifth and final stop for the men’s division of the United Skim Tour and the third and final stop for the women’s division. The men’s field included 39 professional riders and the women’s field included 7 professional riders. Skimboarders from Mexico, Hawaii, the East Coast and up and down California all traveled to compete at the 16th Annual Oktoberfest.
Prior to this competition, Sophia Nguyen in the women’s division had already clinched her fourth UST title in a row, after winning the first two women’s UST competitions for the year. In the men’s division, Gerardo Valencia held a substantial lead over Sam McCoy in second place, who was the only other rider who had a chance at the 2021 men’s UST title. Valencia’s lead was so significant that McCoy would need to finish in first or second place at this final contest of the season to have a shot at the title. Any other scenario would leave Valencia as the men’s UST champion.
Saturday saw solid two-to-four foot waves throughout the morning for round one and round two for the men and round one for the women; however, the swell was inconsistent at times, making for the occasional heat that had only a few good waves. Standout moments on Saturday included Jacob Stinnett snagging perhaps the biggest barrel of the day in his round one heat. Three time UST champion Blair Conklin in round one was met with very slow conditions, but he managed to overcome them very impressive lofty frontside and full-rotation backside airs. Brandon Sears put on the jersey for the first time in 2021, and he looked as in form as ever with a variety of big spin airs and flawless wrap barrels. After a last minute under the lip hack in his round two heat, Sears even finished first in over Conklin who finished second. Another early-rounds standout performer was Ben Koscileniak who was throwing spray unlike any other competitor on both his frontside and backside turns. The final heat of round two ended up being a UST deciding heat. Number two ranked Sam McCoy went up against Jack Klingman from Hawaii and Kai Schmidt from Santa Cruz. McCoy was unable to capitalize as the conditions deteriorated in ever increasing wind of the afternoon, and he finished third in the heat, eliminating his chance at the UST title. After day one, the men’s field had been narrowed down to 18 competitors who would compete on day two.
The women’s division got through round one on Saturday. With Sophia Nguyen in the top spot, she was seeded into round two, leaving the rest of the riders to battle it out in the first round in head-to-head heats. Casey Kiernan defeated Amber Torrealba, with Kiernan’s top ride in that heat coming from a searing backside bash. Alex Yokely managed to outscore Alexandra Badie in their heat, where Yokely caught perhaps the largest wrap barrel of the day for their division. Lastly, Diana Rosa Cordova defeated Irais Ibarra in the final heat of round one.
The conditions on Sunday were very similar to Saturday; however, the wind did pick up a tad early and stayed on the water throughout the day. While the conditions were not as ideal as day one, it was plenty contestable throughout the day. Rounds three and four for the men were held in the morning of Sunday. Valencia, straight off clinching his UST title, started the day in round three with the first 20 point total of the contest. On his top scoring wave in round three, he pulled a 360 shuvit before linking it with a backside liner and grabbing rail into a stylish barrel. Paddy Mack won his heat, with his highest score coming from a wrap to 360 shuvit at a critical moment just before reaching the sand. Other than Valencia, Blair Conklin was the only other rider to score 20 points in his heats throughout the weekend, which Conklin did first in round three and then nearly again in round four with 19.98 points. Ryan McFarland from the gulf coast of Florida had an impressive win in his round four heat, as he outscored Michael Chapman and Austin Keen, two professionals very experienced in heavy west-coast conditions.
The quarter finals for the men saw riders Gerardo Valencia and Blair Conklin really rise above the rest of the field. Both Valencia and Conklin were able to snag the biggest waves of their respective heats and capitalize with tricks like 360s out or 360 shuvits often even on the biggest waves of their heats. Paddy Mack and Jacob Stinnet similarly were able to win their respective quarter final heats with a significant margin and advance to the semi finals.
In the women’s semi finals, Sophia Nguyen had the best female performance of the contest, scoring over 20 points with a series of searing backside turns against Diana Rosa Cordova. Nguyen was throwing spray unlike any other competitor in the division cementing herself as a notch above the rest of the competitors. The second semi-final heat between Casey Kiernan and Alex Yokley was tremendously close. The lead between Kiernan and Yokley switched back and forth multiple times. Ultimately, Kiernan picked off the best waves of the heat and edged out Yokley.
The first heat of the Men’s semi final included the 2021 UST points champion Gerardo Valencia against the three time UST champion Blair Conklin. The points total for this heat was higher than any other two-man heat in the contest, and the lead changed back and forth multiple times, with Valencia holding the lead up until only three minutes remaining on the heat. At that point, Conklin snagged an overhead wrap barrel and secured his lead for the remaining minutes, securing his spot in the final. In the other semi final between Jacob Stinnett and Paddy Mack, Stinnett nabbed the biggest wrap of the heat, locking in a 6.68 for his wrap to barrel. That one ride along with a series of backup scores propelled him into the final heat of the day.
The women’s final included the two-time UST champion Casey Kiernan head to head against the four-time champion Sophia Nguyen. Nguyen started her heat off strong, scoring the only 6 point ride of the heat. While Kiernan fought back in the final minutes, it wasn’t enough to overcome Nguyen’s strong opening start, and Sophia secured her third UST win for the season and her second win in a row at Oktoberfest.
The men’s final featured the three-time UST champion Blair Conklin and the South Laguna local Jacob Stinnett in solid two-to-four foot conditions. Conklin’s very first ride of the heat was a backside liner toward the pier and as he got close to the sand Conklin popped up frontside 180 that he extended into a full rotation floater back up onto the sand. This ride gave Conklin the advantage early. While Stinnett snagged a few great rides in the remaining minutes of the heat, he couldn’t overcome the deficit and Conklin was crowned the 2021 Oktoberfest champion.
UST Points Race
Going into this event, Sophia Nguyen had already secured her 2021 UST title for women’s division. For the men’s division, this contest was slated as a run off between Sam McCoy and Gerardo Valencia. McCoy needed to finish in first or second to have any chance at the title. When McCoy was eliminated in round two, Gerardo Valencia was announced as the 2021 UST champion over the mic, the first UST title for a skimboarder from Mexico.
Photos by Laguna Socal (IG)
Words by David Haefele