By Joe Haakenson
2:11 PM PDT, July 11, 2012
I have two boards in my garage with the "Rockin' Fig" logo on them, two boards purchased directly from Fig himself in his surf shop on Main Street years ago.
Those boards look different to me now, and it's not just the crusty old wax.
Now, it's just the idea that those boards came from a National Champion.
Rick "Rockin' Fig" Fignetti, a legend in Huntington Beach and all of the surfing world for that matter, finally won an elusive national championship when he claimed not one but two national titles at the NSSA National Championships the first week in July on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier.
Fignetti won the Explorer Super Seniors division (ages 45 and up) and also the Explorer Duke division (55 and up).
Fignetti was just 20 in 1978 at the first NSSA championships, and he reached the final heat before finishing fourth in his division. It took him almost 35 years since then to finally come out on top, but he did.
"There was an open spot in my heart where I was never able to succeed," Fignetti said this week from Rockin' Fig Headquarters. "If I get laid to rest tomorrow, at least I got my final goal. … It was like, 'Finally! I did it!' "
Fignetti estimated he'd been in 18 final heats over the years only to come up short each time at Nationals. But this year was different. Fignetti went into the Nationals on a roll, winning 10 consecutive Duke division contests, including the West Coast championships.
Not only was he surfing well, but he was strategizing his approach. Fignetti and all the locals usually surf the north side of the pier, but Fignetti switched things up as the Nationals approached.
"I've actually been surfing a bit on the south side because I knew these championships were gonna be held over there," Fignetti said. "Normally I do surf on the north side, but I've been practicing a lot on the south side and kind of getting used to that 'pier bo peak' on the south side. There's a good little right that comes off of it and I was just hoping it wasn't going to be too much south, where it was gonna be all lefts."
When Fignetti reached the final heat in both the Super Seniors and Duke divisions, he had to strategize again. He's 55 years old and there would be only one division final taking place in between his two finals heats; not much time to rest.
"I was afraid I might burn up a lot of energy in the first one," Fignetti said. "And the bad news was the younger division finals, the 45 and up, came before the 55 and up final. Believe me, I would've been stoked to pull one of them out.
"So I made a deal in my mind that if I wasn't doing well in that first final, I was just going to back off and try to conserve energy. But I ended up taking the lead and so I was like, 'Woah, I could win this thing.' "
He did, finishing with a combo score of 14.83, easily topping second place Chris Brown of Ponce, Inlet, Fla., who scored 11.76.
In the Duke final, Fignetti got a good-scoring wave early to take the lead. Then came the moment of truth.
"Me and this guy were gonna split a peak, he was gonna go right and I was gonna go left," Fignetti said. "And then at the last second, he goes, 'I'm going left,' so I'm like, 'Oh no' and just pulled back.
"Then I turn around and there's an even better peak outside, like a perfect overhead peak with a good looking right and I dropped in and just slashed that thing like five times in a row."
Fignetti scored a 9.17 on that wave, all but securing his second national title in a matter of minutes. His 16.04 combo score put him comfortably ahead of Scott Lewis of Malibu, who scored 11.43 to take second.
Fignetti, who turns 56 in November, is still going strong, both physically (thanks to a "banana-protein shake thing") and now spiritually, as well.
"I found the Lord this year," Fignetti said. "Maybe He threw a couple of those sets my way. It seemed everything was lined up for me this year."
Fignetti said the national crowns he just earned belong to all of Huntington.
"It's for all the boys of Huntington Beach," Fignetti said. "We've got a lot of good surfers in this town and a lot of them don't do the (contest) circuits but they still rip. I just wanted to bring a title to the boys.
"The boys at the pier are always pushing it, it's a great training ground surfing there every day."
Overall, there was some great surfing at the NSSA championships, most notably by Hawaiians and Californians, each state claiming eight individual national titles. Florida had two national champions and Japan had one.
Hawaiian Ezekiel Lau nabbed the top prizes of the event, winning both the Open Men's Mayors Cup (ages 16 and up) and the Explorer Men's (all ages) championships.
As for the locals, Fignetti wasn't the only one to come up big.
In the Open Boys division (12 and under), John Mel of Newport Beach finished second in the nation and Cole Houshmand of San Clemente was third. Mel also earned a national championship in the Explorer Menehuene division (12 and under).
In the Open Mini Groms (10 and under) Crosby Colapinto of San Clemente took fourth. In the Open Longboard (all ages), Troy Bartovich of Huntington Beach placed second.
In the Explorer Masters division (25 and up), Lee Toresdahl placed sixth, and he also placed fourth in the Explorer Super Seniors (45 and up).
Locals dominated the Explorer Duke division (55 and up). Besides Fignetti's national championship in the Dukes, Terry Carmadella of Huntington Beach took third and Jeremy Guilmette, also of Huntington, placed fifth.
They also gave out a number of "special awards," and among the winners was Huntington's Janice Aragon, who won the Heart and Soul award inspired by Bethany Hamilton.
JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.