History of the O’Neill Coldwater Classic


From Surfer Magazine

On October 16th, throngs of spectators and world-class surfers will travel to Santa Cruz, California, for the O’Neill Coldwater Classic, recognized as the longest-running surf event in Northern California. The first CWC took place at The Lane in 1985, and registered as a top-tier event on the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour three years later in 1988, where it remained until 1990. The Classic dropped to a second-tier event on the World Qualifying Series for 21 subsequent years, among other professional circuits, before its accreditation back to the World Tour in 2012, where 32 of the world’s best surfers competed for a $425,000 purse prize. The event’s format has changed again in the two years since, as many now-unsponsored surfers travel to Steamer Lane for a winner-take all competition. This year, the event has returned to the Qualifying Series, and 96 surfers—some fighting for a spot on the 2016 World Tour—will vie for $50,000 and 1,500 points.


Steamer Lane first garnered popularity as a surf destination during the 1940s after World War II. In 1967, the first shortboard-era pro contest, The Santa Cruz Pro-Am, was held at The Lane, which awarded a $300 prize to event winner Corky Carroll. Surfers like Peter Cole, Fred Van Dyke, and Karl Vesper trekked to the break regularly, paving the way for local talents like Richard Schmidt, Darryl “Flea” Virostko, and, most recently, World Tour competitor Nat Young.

Many winners of the Coldwater Classic have staked their place on World Tour. Jordy Smith (2007), Matt Wilkinson (2010), and Miguel Pupo (2011) each answered their victories in Santa Cruz with stellar runs on the professional circuit. Perhaps more than any other year, Tom Curren’s victory in 1990 brought widespread attention to the event, when his combination of technical footwork and smooth carving in clean wave conditions won against Australian Gary Elkerton in the final.

Steamer Lane often favors local surfers who know how to make the most of any conditions at the break, and a number of Santa Cruz surfers have won the event. Anthony Ruffo won the CWC (’85), Peter Mel (’97), Chris Gallagher(’98 & ’99), Adam Replogle (’02), Kieran Horn (’03), and Nat Young (’08)—the youngest to ever win the CWC at just 17 years old—all hail from the region, and each took home the championship title.

Although The Lane is known as a swell magnet, breaking anywhere from two feet to well overhead, little-to-no surf caused the event’s cancellation in 2004. In 2011, Coldwater Classic organizers moved the heats to Waddell Creek, a beachbreak approximately 20 miles away that runs through Big Basin Redwoods State Park. This year’s competition, originally scheduled to run on October 14th, will now begin on Friday, October 16th, in light of forecasts of mixed SW to NW swells, which should give the talented field of competitors ample opportunity to post high scores and vie for their spot on the storied podium.

List of CWC Champions:
2014- Nathan Yeomans- O’Neill CWC- Invitational
2013- Torrey Meister-O’Neill CWC- Invitational
2012- Taj Burrow – Championship Tour
2011- Miguel Pupo – Qualifying series- Prime
2010- Matt Wilkinson – O’Niell CWC
2009-Nathan Yeomans – O’Neill CWC
2008-Nat Young- O’Neill CWC
2007-Jordy Smith- O’Neill CWC
2006- Toby Martin- O’Neill CWC
2005- Bobby Martinez- O’Neill CWC
2003- Kieran Horn – O’Neill CWC
2002-Adam Replogle – O’Neill CWC
2001- Roy Powers – O’Neill CWC
2000 -Joel Parkinson – O’Neill CWC
1999- Chris Gallagher- O’Neill CWC
1998- (Billabong) Chris Gallagher – O’Neill CWC
1997- (Billabong) Peter Mel- Billabong
1993- (Billabong) Taylor Knox- Billabong
1992- (Bud Surf Tour) Todd Miller – Bud Surf Tour
1990- Tom Curran – O’Neill Pepsi CWC
1989- Martin Potter – O’Neill Pepsi CWC
1987- Ritchie Collins – O’Neill Coors CWC
1985/ 86- Anthony Ruffo – PSAA

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