By Aaron Finley
Triplicate staff writer
The theme for this weekend's Noll Longboard Classic is "Ohana," a Hawaiian term meaning family.
That's appropriate for an event founded and organized each year by one of the best-known surfing families on the West Coast. But that covers only one facet of what defines the Noll Longboard Classic.
This surfing contest which takes place this Saturday and Sunday at South Beach isn't so much about Crescent City's Noll family as it is an event for families in general.
"This is one of the few surfing contests that's geared to the family as a whole, and that's what makes it special," said Rhyn Noll, the Crescent City surfboard shop owner who, with his mother, Bev Noll, founded the contest in 1996.
The annual contest is expected to draw 2,000 people competitors and spectators, young and old, locals and visitors, parents and kids to South Beach this weekend.
It was legendary surfer Greg Noll Rhyn's father and Bev's former husband who made the family's name famous. Greg Noll, who is not involved with the local surf contest, was one of the first surfers ever to successfully ride Hawaii's famous "Pipeline," a surf spot on the North Shore of Oahu which can generate 25-foot-high, deadly waves.
Bev Noll said that although her family name is identified with the annual event, she would like to think that is not the only drawing card.
"Yes we are a surfing family that is well-known throughout the world, but our goal in holding this contest was to help the local community financially through bringing in tourists, as well as providing a wholesome environment for families," she said.
Alison Eckert, local surfing enthusiast and Del Norte High School English teacher, has participated in the Longboard Classic since its inception.
"The best part of this contest to me is watching the menahunies" the youngest surfers, she said. "Kids embody the best qualities in human beings, and watching them ride just for fun is really cool."
The Noll Longboard Classic like the sport of surfing itself borrows a lot of words from the Hawaiian language and most have something to do with family.
"In the surfing world, with our roots in Hawaii, we have inherited many Hawaiian words, such as aloha,' mahalo' and ohana,'" Bev Noll said. "Those who surf often have a wider view of family than the traditional definition."
She said the Hawaiian definition is much more broad.
"There is the family of nature: the sun and sky, the ocean, the waves and the wind," Noll said. "Then there is one's local, loving family of surfers and beachgoers the surf buddies.
"Add to that the worldwide family of surfers, and one begins to get a glimpse of the wholesome nature of ohana."
That family atmosphere attracts not only competitors and spectators, but also sponsors, Bev Noll said.
"We have a really strong connection to our sponsors who help us so generously put this event on every year," Noll said. "These businesses have been with us since the beginning with no questions asked."
The small-town, community-oriented environment has been one of the biggest factors in the event's continued success.
"We get people from all over the Pacific Coast region who bring their entire families," Noll said. "To see people who came to our first event continue to return is a great feeling."
Noll said the idea for a contest of this sort came from having watched a similar event in Southern California years ago.
"I saw how involved the community was with the event and started thinking Why can't we do something like that here?'"
The surfing contest has received sponsorship support from 30 local businesses, as well as several others throughout California and out of state.
"We knew this event would grow if we did it right, so I'm really not surprised it does as well as it does in this community," she said.
Noll said she felt it was important to keep the event local.
"We could have gone to large corporations and received the funding very easily," Noll said. "But we chose not to do that because we wanted to give the local community a sense of ownership with the event."
Having seen large-scale surfing events throughout the West Coast, Noll said she and her family wanted this particular event to be something different.
"A lot of the contests in bigger areas are noisy and commercial," she said. "We wanted ours to be run professionally and to bring a hometown feel to it."
Noll said she and the event organizers also faced the question of whether to sanction the contest, thus attracting the biggest names in the surfing world.
"We decided not to do that because we didn't want the event to be a cutthroat competition with all the pressure that goes along with it," Noll said.
The lack of financial rewards, Noll said, has not turned people away.
"The professional surfers come to our event anyway because they like the small-town feel of the event, and because there is no pressure to win or keep their point standings."
Noll said the goals, which had been set early on, have not only been met each and every year, but continue to be exceeded.
In terms of the competitors themselves, Noll said, because the event is a low-key affair without the fanfare of the big stage normally associated with professional competitions, surfers of all ages and ability levels continue to make the trek north.
"People who enter our contest would never even think about entering another contest," Noll said. "Our contest is not about being the best. It's about surfers at all levels coming together for the simple enjoyment of the sport."