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Originally published Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Clean Water Classic coming to Washington's surf city

The Northwest's biggest surfing competition, the Clean Water Classic, comes to Westport May 15-17.

Special to The Seattle Times

If You Go

Clean Water Classic surfing competition

Where, when

May 15-17 in Westport, Grays Harbor County.

The GSI Surf Shop Challenge starts at noon on Friday, May 15, with all other events starting on Saturday, May 16. Main contest heats are 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, with pro/am heats in the morning.

On Sunday, May 17, finals are 7 a.m.-3 p.m., with an awards ceremony following at the Chateau Westport, 710 W. Hancock St. Free admission for spectators to all events.

Special events

Out of the water, the weekend includes demos from event sponsors, prize giveaways and a beach cleanup. A Saturday party, 6 p.m.-midnight at Chateau Westport, will feature a barbecue and pig roast, with music by Flacktide Soul, a ska and reggae band from Bothell. Admission is free; food and beverages for sale.

Where to stay

Chateau Westport (800-255-9101 or www.chateauwestport.com) is this year's contest headquarters. Twin Harbors State Park on Highway 105 has tent and RV sites three miles south of Westport, $17 to $24 per night, or there is an assortment of RV parks in town.

More information

To learn more, see past results or to register, see www.cleanwaterclassic.com.

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There is a world where surf contests are a huge deal. Media swarms the beach. Victorious surfers are hoisted upon shoulders as they emerge from the water. Champagne flows and cameras flash. Bikinis meet big money.

That world is nowhere near Westport, Wash.

Still, the eighth-annual Clean Water Classic, May 15-17 in Westport, is one of the largest events of the year for Northwest surfers. With just enough prize money to cover fuel and lodging for the weekend with a bit left over, it draws competitors from up and down the coast who don colored jerseys and line up to be judged on their wave-riding abilities.

But the lack of exposure doesn't lessen the intensity out in the water.

"The competition is quite fierce," said Adrian Nelson, one of the contest organizers and a board member for Surfrider Canada. In past years, surfers have come from as far away as Brazil and Hawaii to participate in the event.

"The guys that end up in the finals are really good surfers. They're usually all sponsored riders from somewhere," said Nelson.

That somewhere is usually Tofino, B.C., with surfers from the woodsy, Vancouver Island village dominating the top pro/am division nearly every year. The past two contests have been all about Noah Cohen, a laid-back 20-year-old pro from Tofino who surfed his way to back-to-back first place finishes.

"The waves were so fun last year. It's so nice to compete in good waves," Cohen said. While he occasionally travels to international contests with Team Canada, he's still undecided about attempting to pursue a spot on the rigorous World Championship Tour.

"It's so easy to just stay here and surf instead," he said. While Cohen has the momentum of his recent wins, nobody's planning on handing him the Westport crown this year.

"I'm going to try and give the young guys a run for their money," said Greg Urata, a Clallam Bay resident who works for the Quileute Tribe as a fisheries technician. This past summer, Urata won the pro/am shortboard division in the La Push Surfing and Traditions contest. In his 30s, Urata didn't want to disclose his exact age for fear of giving his younger opponents an edge.

"You just got to go for it out there," he said.

Along with wave selection and length of ride, competitors are judged on the difficulty and amount of maneuvers performed along the wave's face, with higher points for moves performed closer to the wave's critical section or curl.

Before the Clean Water Classic, Westport's annual Polar Surf Challenge regularly attracted a dedicated group of surfers for the fishing town's larger winter swells and inclement weather. However, in 2002, the Clean Water Classic was born and took its place as the region's first pro/am contest. The Pacific Northwest Chapters of the Surfrider Organization, an international environmental group that promotes and protects waves and beaches, stages the annual event and uses it as an opportunity to raise awareness and build community among the region's scattered, but active, surfing population.

Depending on conditions, the contest can run at any one of the town's surf breaks: the jetty at Westhaven State Park, nearby Half Moon Bay, or the Finger Jetties, also known as the Groins. Unlike many larger surf contests, the Clean Water Classic doesn't have the option of waiting for the best waves.

"We basically have one weekend and we have to run it," Nelson said.

And they pack a lot in that weekend. There are nine different divisions for men and women, ranging from master's events for surfers over 40, down to the "Keiki" division where surfers under 10 are helped into waves by their parents.

"That one's definitely a crowd pleaser," said Nelson.

For many, the Clean Water Classic is a family event. Kevin Todd, a 43-year-old Westport local, won the master's longboard division this past year, and his wife, Monica, took first in the women's longboard.

"The hardest thing about these contests is when they run 15-minute heats. It's really hard to paddle out and catch a good wave in 15 minutes, especially at the jetty," Kevin Todd said. As a local real estate agent, Todd's weekend duties go beyond winning one for the home team.

"Last year, I was showing houses in between heats. It was a bit stressful," he said.

Besides the individual competitions, the event's main sponsor, Global Surf Industries, hosts the Surf Shop Challenge, in which local shops choose three surfers to battle it out for Northwest bragging rights. Last year, Steepwater Surf in Westport successfully defended its home turf.

John Kinmonth is a Seattle-based writer, editor and surfer.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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