With a win at the Cold Water Classic at the iconic Steamer Lane, Kolohe Andino will start 2023 with plenty of momentum
By Jake Howard
“Winning takes talent; to repeat takes character,” basketball coaching icon John Wooden famously said.
More than a decade ago, San Clemente’s Kolohe Andino wrapped up a breakout year on the WSL Qualifying Series with a win at the 2011 Fantastic Noodles Kangaroo Island Pro (quite possibly the best name of a surf contest ever).
He won five events that season en route to qualifying for the 2012 Championship Tour.
After 11 years of ups and downs, injuries and Olympic appearances, Andino found himself back on top of the podium earlier this month, when he won the O’Neill Cold Water Classic at Santa Cruz’s legendary Steamer Lane.
After a week of gritty, clutch performances, Andino saved the best for last. Andino put in one of the highest scoring heats of the event, dispatching longtime friend Ian Crane in the semifinals, before facing fellow Californian Taro Watanabe in the final.
Following a tight, back-and-forth exchange to start the heat, Andino sat in second place and needed a high score to take the win. Then, as the ocean sometimes does, things went flat for the better part of 20 minutes.
Finally, a set showed on the horizon, and Andino took full advantage. He took the lead with a crisply surfed 7.23, as it all came down to a paddle battle for priority and one more wave. Tapping into a clean, running 4-footer, Andino unleashed a series of searing turns to get the score and take the win.
“I love coming here to Santa Cruz; it’s such a beautiful place and to win this event and add my name to the long list of gnarly Lane surfers is rad,” Andino told the WSL when it was over. “To have a flurry at the end was really exciting. If Taro gets to the Tour one day, he’ll do some damage.”
With a little momentum on his side, Andino will step back onto the Championship Tour stage next year, when the Billabong Pro Pipeline kicks off in Hawaii at the end of January.
“I’ve planned a three- or four-month offseason training program,” Andino continued. “I was really inspired after my performance on tour last year and want to do really good. I think I’m right where I need to be.”
On the women’s side of the draw, Florida’s Zoe Benedetto was able to hold off a hard-charging group of girls from San Clemente to take the win. In the quarterfinals, Benedetto drew Mia McLeish and barely advanced by less than a point.
The final was an all-teenage affair, as 17-year-old Benedetto faced off against 15-year-old Bella Kenworthy. The Floridian put a 7-point score on the board early and never really looked back. It was Benedetto’s first time competing at the legendary Santa Cruz venue.
“I’m so excited to win here,” she said after the win. “Surfing against one of my best friends, Bella, was amazing, and she pushes my surfing to its best. Thank you so much to the local community here and coming out; it was a really great event.”
This week, the Haleiwa Challenger event is running on the island of Oahu with a host of local talent in the draw, including Crosby Colapinto, Kei Kobayashi, Cole Houshmand, Kirra Pinkerton and Sawyer Lindblad.
The outcome of this contest will finalize the field of competitors for the 2023 Championship Tour season, which, as mentioned, kicks off at Pipeline at the end of January.
Jake Howard is a local surfer and freelance writer who lives in San Clemente. A former editor at Surfer Magazine, The Surfer’s Journal and ESPN, today he writes for a number of publications, including Picket Fence Media, Surfline and the World Surf League. He also works with philanthropic organizations such as the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center and the Positive Vibe Warriors Foundation.