I've always been a fan of Griff. By Griff, I mean San Clemente, California's 18-year-old Griffin Colapinto. And it's not just because he's got a righteous name of a creature that has the body of a lion with the head and wings of an eagle, but because the kid's got personality. Panache. Chutzpah. And also because he surfs like it, too.
Dunno what chutzpah is? It's Yiddish for a kind of impressive audacity or nerve. Kinda like a month and a half ago, when in the dying seconds of his Round Three heat in the Hawaiian Pro -- the 10,000-level Qualifying Series contest at Haleiwa -- he stomped a massive Hail Mary air-reverse off a section that most wouldn't touch to advance (and win) the heat from third place.
Or chutzpah like the way I've seen him slow-play a group of pro surfers 10 years his senior into a Blackjack game with him and utterly clean them up for a handful of Euros. The kid cleaned me up, too. But apparently his card shark days are over. He's "grown out of that" and these days, he's focusing on qualifying for the Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour (CT).
And for Griffin's very first season pursuing the QS, the kid's had a hell of a year. Starting out, he won the Pipe Pro Junior in March and then won the Los Cabos Pro Junior Pro in June. By summer, he was awarded a wildcard in the Vans US Open of Surfing and made it to the Round of 24, a feat that got him into the 10K- and 6K-level events in the second half of this year.
He went on to Brazil and got a 3rd in the Hang Loose Pro 6K and then carried that swagger into Hawaii and made the Quarterfinals at Haleiwa not long after nailing the maneuver of the event I mentioned earlier. Griffin was actually ranked 26th going into Sunset.
All said and done, he finished 32nd after his first year, a rating some QS grinders spend years building toward. This finish also puts him in he Round of 96 for every 10K QS event in 2017.
Beyond one hell of a year, though, many are touting Griffin as one of the most exciting young surfers to break out of California since Dane Reynolds. By "many" I mostly mean me, but I stand by that call. I asked Griffin about the comparison.
"Well, I feel like I've heard that when Dane was younger, he'd just surf as much as he could, and I guess that's exactly what I try and do because I know that's the best way to get better," he said.
"But when I go out, I don't just try and freesurf, I'm always thinking of what the best guys are doing and try and copy that. Guys like Julian Wilson for airs, Mick Fanning for turns, Medina and Filipe for comps; they're both really exciting to me."
Surfing every nook, cranny and [Lower] trestle around San Clemente since he was a mini-grom, Griff's pops is a school teacher that runs a surf camp with his wife called Cola's during the summers. Griffin's also got a younger brother, Crosby, that rips too.
As far as his main competition, he considers 2017 CT qualifier Ethan Ewing and Huntington Beach's CT rookie Kanoa Igarashi the two main guys his age that push him the hardest in heats. At home, however, there's no shortage of past and present talent to scrap with out at Lowers. San Clemente has always been one of the surf world's energy vortices. Like Snapper Rocks, Australia. Or Sedona, Arizona (without the surf).
"Whenever Brother [Kolohe Andino] is home, I like to surf with him because he's huge to get pushed by. I mean, he's what, 4th on the CT? That's pretty cool," said Griffin. "But I also love to surf with my brother, Crosby, to push him and help him get better."
One exceptional quality about Griffin, though, is how comfortable he's gotten in bigger surf, for a kid from San Clemente. (No offense, Long brothers).
"It could be from staying at the Billabong house right there at Pipe for the last handful of winters," said Colapinto, "but I think it was really from surfing with Seth Moniz a bunch. We'd always go out to Pipe together and he'd push me a lot to get a bigger one. He's always charging a little harder than me, so I keep wanting to step it up because of him. I'm pretty competitive in that way."
Fair nuff. But even if the Tour doesn't work out for Griff -- which I'm convinced isn't an option for this kid -- he's always got that fallback career as a shark at the Blackjack table. I'd still bet on him qualifying soon, though. I might even be all in.
Griffin will be competing at the World Junior Championships in Kiama, NSW, beginning on January 4, 2017. Watch it live on WSL.com