Golden Boy

Morgan Faulkner may be the best surfer Texas ever kicked out

So says Curtis Wheeler, third-generation Hawaiian, a 34-year-old state championship bodyboarder who's kind of a big brother to Faulkner. A big tattooed, pierced older brother with a shaved head, that is. He's kind of like the anti-Faulkner, but likable.

Wheeler moved to Texas in 1985 and racked up awards straight through 1999, when he shattered his kneecaps. He's now making a comeback and isn't shy about it. While Faulkner speaks softly and carries a big portfolio, Wheeler does whatever he can to get his name out there.

It's easy to understand Wheeler's need to maintain his standing in the surf world -- his uncle is Hawaiian surfing legend Montgomery "Buttons" Kaluhiokalani, one of the innovators of the 360. Wheeler has a lot to live up to.

Wheeler has become like a big brother to Faulkner.
Wheeler has become like a big brother to Faulkner.

He met Faulkner six years ago, but really didn't pay much attention to him until they competed in the 2000 U.S. Surfing Championships. He saw Faulkner make it through round after round, and, what's more, the kid didn't have any attitude. Wheeler found it refreshing. By the end of the event, he and Faulkner were the only two Texans left.

"That's when I knew, man, this kid's got something," Wheeler says. "He's come all the way to Hawaii, he doesn't care about the coral reef, he doesn't care what size the waves are, he's out there having fun, he's competing…I started telling everybody, 'That's the future of Texas right there.' "

Wheeler plans to meet Faulkner in Hawaii and help him get adjusted. Not that Faulkner would intentionally tick off Da Hui -- it's just that it doesn't take much to do that at all.

"In Hawaii, they go by 'We grew here, you flew here. Now fly home,' " Wheeler says. Faulkner "has surfed with a lot of those guys, he's made a lot of friends, but still he's going to have to adapt and work his way into it. You just don't move to Hawaii and paddle out at Pipeline and take waves whenever you want."

Faulkner may even have to bite a few boards.

Men's open longboard, an all-ages showdown, is Sunday's last heat.

Faulkner and six others, including the ubiquitous Booty Brothers, paddle out and bob like buoys, awaiting the air horn. Surfing is mostly paddling, which is why surfers have such strong upper bodies. John Olvey, a veteran surfer with the TGSA, theorized the Surfing Formula: 900 hours of paddling for one hour of standing up.

Faulkner rides the first wave almost to the sand, cross-stepping to the nose and hanging ten like the board's not even moving. There are some flashy maneuvers in surfing, that's for sure: 360s, el rollos, S-turns, throwing tail. But watching a skilled longboarder walk back and forth as the wave carries him or her to the shore borders on the mystical. It's a complicated move that, for the most part, is hard to see from a distance. It's like Wheeler says: It's the closest man has come to walking on water.

Faulkner wipes out on the next two waves but hits the third like it was made just for him. Same with the next, and with this one, he speeds things up, quickly cross-stepping back and forth like a toy duck at a carnival shooting gallery.

He'll go on to win the heat, take first in open ams, second in the age-specific longboard division and second in air. He'll also nab the most points for the entire event and win the Iron Man Award for placing in four contests. His local surf team and sponsor, Wind&Wave, will win first place for team.

This will be his final TGSA state championship. The following weekend, he'll become the open longboard regional champ in the prestigious National Scholastic Surfing Association's western region championship in Southern California. A few days after that, he'll graduate high school. Then it's on to South Africa, Portugal, Hawaii.

But at this moment, he's right where he wants to be: 18 years old, standing on the tip of his longboard, his toes curled over the nose, riding the wave.

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