By Aaron Reiss
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When the water is waist-high, Faulkner drops the board in front of him and hops over the waves. Blink. He vanishes. Blink. He's gliding the crest of a wave. Surf, disappear, repeat.
After a while, TGSA volunteers roll into the parking lot and carry chairs, scaffolding and other equipment from their trucks to the beach like worker ants. Today's finalists, male and female, will compete in various air, longboard and shortboard heats. Faulkner placed in four of five categories. The heats today are five minutes longer and surfers get ten waves instead of eight.
As they erect the scaffolding, Faulkner trudges in from the surf with two clean-cut pieces of surfboard. His last wave broke heavy, and he just fell into it, cleaving the board.
"Kinda sucks," he says, and makes way to his mother's truck to get a replacement. Once there, his girlfriend refers him to the blood on his ankle. One of the pieces of the board must've scratched him. Faulkner just shrugs.
Faulkner and Tupaj are two years into a relationship built as much upon surfing as anything else. Tupaj, a sophomore at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, has surfed for nine years, but it wasn't until she met Faulkner that she decided to compete. Now, they surf a few hours every day off Bob Hall Pier in Port Aransas. It's a surfer-friendly spot now, thanks in large part to Faulkner's mother, Mary Goldsmith. Six years ago, Goldsmith joined the Port Aransas City Council and fought to remove an ordinance prohibiting surfing within 250 feet of the pier.
As long as anyone could remember, fishermen ruled Bob Hall Pier. Surfers flouting the ordinance were subject to arrest or a barrage of fishhooks and whatever else anglers felt like throwing at them. But the city council unanimously revoked the ordinance, freeing the pier for surfers -- and for Faulkner's parents as well. A few years after Goldsmith left the council, she and her husband, Ron Faulkner, won the lease for the concession stands on the county-owned pier. They pay a percentage to the county and keep the rest.
The sun and the judges' scaffolding are now up, and a TGSA rep takes the mike to announce the first heat: longboard.
Faulkner is up against eight other surfers, include the Booty Brothers, who are named not so much for a fraternal bond as for their predilection for neoprene surf slippers.
The longboard is Goldsmith's favorite. She of course watches all her son's heats, but there's something about watching Faulkner cross-stepping to the nose and hanging ten that makes up for years of scrubbing surf wax out of carpets, clothing and cars.
Surfing was something Faulkner got from his father, who grew up in San Diego. Goldsmith didn't know a thing about surfing until she married Ron, who scaled back his surfing as his job demanded more and more travel.
By the time Faulkner was about eight, Ron was down to one board, an old Dewey Webster Pig he kept in the garage. Faulkner saw his father move it one day when Ron was cleaning the garage, and there was a connection.
"It was absolutely immediate," the elder Faulkner says. "There was just a natural desire on his part to try something like that."
All of a sudden, father and son were chasing waves every day, and Goldsmith quickly learned the ins and outs of surfing. She watched as her son would take fleeting interests in basketball and soccer, only to return to surfing with more fervor than before. She and Ron have clapped and cheered and supported Faulkner through sprains, bruises, cuts, losses and sea lice, which are even more disgusting than they sound.
As supportive of his move to Hawaii as Goldsmith is, she's also there to remind him that part of the deal is for him to stay in school. "Don't you want to be an educatedpro surfer?" she always asks.
The beach is hardly as crowded as it was Saturday. A few folks catch rays in folding chairs, but pretty much everyone in the water is part of the championships. A few miles away, the Coast Guard boat and chopper continue their search for the missing teen.
Judges watch the surfers in Faulkner's heat from a raised deck, squinting through the sunlight and making visors out of their hands. To keep things fair, they don't know the names of the competitors in each heat -- they go by only the jersey color, which, in the sun, is no easy task. There's red. No, that's blue. Is that green? Yellow just wiped out. That is yellow, isn't it?
The judges are looking for difficult maneuvers in the most critical part of the wave. It's not enough to just ride the crest, you've got to put something into it, show the judges you own the wave. In surfing, they call a wave's curling lip the glass ax. If you display grace and style under the looming glass ax, you've got something. If not, you're just a kook.
"Surfing wasn't born on a travel brochure. It was born in Hawaii. And like some people say, when man first stood up on a surfboard surfing, [it] was the closest he ever got to walking on water."