San Clemente’s Kevin Skvarna is the kind of surfer who can ride anything and make it look good—literally.
A constant threat on the WSL’s longboard tour, as well as at the Vans Duct Tape Invitational events, Skvarna most recently caught competitive fire, not at a longboard contest, but, rather, during the 2023 Kneeboard Surfing USA Titles and Kneeboard Festival in Huntington Beach.
Riding a board about four feet shorter than his normal plank, Skvarna looked perfectly comfortable last weekend on his kneeboard, as he took on a field of more than 60 competitors from around the world.
Winning both the Open and Pro Junior divisions, the 24-year-old made history as the youngest competitor to win the event, which ran for the first time in 2003.
Kneeboarding holds a unique place in the world of wave-riding. At the height of its popularity in the late ’60s and early ’70s, it appeared to be a viable alternative to stand-up surfing. With his famous do-it-yourself bowl cut, Santa Barbara’s George Greenough played a larger-than-life role in raising awareness around the craft.
With a dynamic, future-forward approach at iconic pointbreaks including Rincon and Lennox Head, his experiments with elements of flex and speed showed the world what was possible on smaller, more agile equipment.
In San Diego, kneeboarder Steve Lis took things one step further with his advent of the “fish” design. Still ridden to this day, the fish revolutionized the lines surfers were able to draw. Thanks to the creative minds of Greenough and Lis, as well as others, to some extent kneeboarding helped usher in the high-performance shortboard era.
On the subject of style, another big winner from San Clemente last weekend was Taj Lindblad, who took out the SLO CAL Open at Morro Bay. It’s the first WSL Qualifying Series victory of the 19-year-old’s young career.
Finals day was packed with local talent, as Lindblad faced fellow Lowers local Kade Matson in their quarterfinal duel. In another quarterfinal battle, a resurgent Jake Davis took out Crosby Colapinto.
“I’m just really stoked. It was a hard road, for sure,” a relieved Lindblad said after the win. “I have a bunch of family friends here who are pretty much my family, and if I’m not surfing T-Street or Lowers, I’m surfing here, so it’s pretty special.”
Making the moment extra special, rather than being “chaired” up the beach as is tradition when one wins a surf contest, Lindblad had a crew standing by on horseback. Riding up to the podium with a big smile across his face, “it was really special,” Lindblad explained.
“This is a confidence boost just with the guys who were here will be at the bigger events left, so I’m really excited to get going,” he added.
With the win, Lindblad is now ranked fifth in the North American Qualifying Series. Colapinto and Jett Schilling are also ranked in the top 10.
Meanwhile, the women’s North American Qualifying Series ratings are currently fronted by Lindblad’s sister, Sawyer. A potent brother-sister duo, it’s so exciting to see these two coming into their own. San Clemente’s Bella Kenworthy sits in second.
The next stop of the North American Qualifying Series will be the Ron Jon Quiksilver and Roxy Pro coming to Florida, March 8-12. The top finishers on the Qualifying Series will graduate to the WSL Challenger Series. From there, they will have an opportunity to qualify for the WSL Championship Tour—surfing’s big leagues.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.
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