You have to express yourself. We’re judging the moment.”

Matt Hoy said that a week ago, while Indonesian dancers stood behind him and twirled their ornate dresses into the Sumatran night. It was the opening ceremony of the 2017 Quiksilver Young Guns Final and excitement (along with smoke from a brush fire) was in the air. Hoy judged a lot of moments between then and now. His criteria was damn clear.

Expressing yourself is one thing when it comes to putting pen to paper or paint to canvas, but the Young Guns were tasked with putting board to wave in order to externalize something. Initially, every teenager in the world was challenged to woo Mikey Wright, Ezekiel Lau and Jeremy Flores with an air, turn or combo. After over a thousand kids stepped up, Mikey picked the top 10 airs, Zeke picked the top 10 turns and Jeremy picked the top 10 combos. Those 30 kids made edits and you, the public, voted for the top 5. Then Jeremy, Zeke and Mikey chucked in their favorites and we had ourselves a final.
Dwight Pastrana, Kyuss King, Kehu Butler, Sandy Whitaker, Sammy Pupo, Kael Walsh and Kade Matson showed up for the big dance in Indo with dreams of $10K. Each of them surfed three hour-long heats and tried to fulfill the same criteria that got them here: airs, turns and combos. They let their personalities shine through on every single wave. Wild behavior on land lead to recklessness in the water while poise on the beach transitioned into calculation when the sets rolled in. Ain’t if funny how people truly surf like themselves? Expression, eh Hoy?

Things get interesting, though, when your canvas can hold you underwater for 15-seconds and bounce you across jagged reef. When it came time for the hour-long Super Final featuring the best aerialists, turners and comboers from the aforementioned heats — Kael Walsh, Sammy Pupo, Kade Matson and Kyuss King — the ocean wasn’t exactly in a playful mood. 6-8 foot waves thundered down the point, while the occasional wash-through turned the lineup into a furious milk bath. Should we run it? Should we not run it? $10K was on the line. Let’s make these kids earn it.
Kyuss and Kade picked long waves and tagged them all the way through. Kael got barreled and squared up with sections that nobody else even looked at. You need more than a chunk of foam in order to attack a lip that wants to make your face bleed. You need attitude. The Great Hoy was pleased with this. But then, Sammy got the two largest waves of the heat and surfed them to complete perfection. Every single movement was in unison with the ocean. It was like a song you never want to end.

So, who won?

Hoy paddled out with a $10K novelty check under his chest and the finalists met him in the channel. With the appropriate amount of ado, he announced the champ. After three years of making the Young Guns Final, Sammy Pupo finally took the thing out.
Everybody clapped and cheered and then got annihilated when the biggest set of the day stampeded into the shore pound. Sammy desperately tried to hang on to his check and the last board of his Sumatran quiver and inevitably snapped both.

After an explosion of laugher, the rest of the Young Guns put Sammy on their shoulders and chaired him up the beach. “This was the best contest ever,” he said from his perch, while his yard sale dragged behind him. Though, really, it never even felt like a contest at all.