PLNU Surf Team Wins National Championship

by on June 30, 2023 · 0 comments

in Ocean Beach, Sports

Point Loma Nazarene University surfer Noah Kawaguchi (in yellow jersey) and the PLNU surf team after winning the NSSA College Nationals Competition. PHOTO BY CAMERON WINKELMAN

by Kylie Capuano / / June 28, 2023

The Point Loma Nazarene University surf team took home the championship at the NSSA College Nationals Competition held on June 16-18. Their La Jolla competitor, UC San Diego, trailed behind with a fourth-place finish.

PLNU surfer Noah Kawaguchi was named the 2023 National College Men’s champion. Winning all of his heats, except for a second-place finish in the semifinals, Kawaguchi dominated despite having the odds stacked against him.

In the weeks leading up to the event, the Hawaii-based surfer was out with a back injury and two misaligned ribs. Set to compete in an amateur surf competition in his home state the weekend before nationals, Kawaguchi endured 10 chiropractic sessions to get him back in the water just in time.

“The morning of the big amateur contest at home was the first day in two weeks that I woke up and my back was feeling great,” said Kawaguchi. “The day before I couldn’t walk or sit up or lay down without feeling an extreme pain in my back.”

Coming out of his two-week rest, Kawaguchi took home the win at the Surf into Summer at Ala Moana Bowls. That confidence helped carry him to his national championship title the following week.

“I surfed against some really good surfers that weekend before. Knowing I could overcome them really just helped me be like ‘OK, I can do this. I can beat these guys,’” said Kawaguchi. “It took a lot of pressure off of me with that championship contest.”

Continuing his untraditional route to the finals, Kawaguchi set out into the NSSA College Nationals with the only twin-fin surfboard out of 81 competitors. Riding on two fins instead of a typical three-fin thruster board, Kawaguchi opted for a faster board more adept at maneuvering through soft spots on a wave. Competitors usually stray away from these boards as they are considered harder to pivot and more likely to slip out from underneath.

“Everyone was kind of doubting me, but I just feel so comfortable about it. That was probably one of my favorite aspects of it – being the only twin fin in the contest and getting the title. It was like a secret competitive advantage almost,” said Kawaguchi.

UC San Diego surfer and team captain Makena Burke also joined the national leaderboard, taking home a second-place finish in the women’s division. As a frequent top competitor and double state champion, Burke will be returning next season with the hopes of a championship title.

“I definitely went in with the goal of getting first, but of course, everything is always up to the ocean’s discretion,” said Burke. “At the end of the day, sometimes the waves just don’t come your way. I’m super happy to get second and get some good points for the team.”

UC San Diego’s fourth-place finish remains consistent with their previous 2022 third-place ranking. With a now-concluded season, the Tritons will have a year to prepare for the 2024 championships.

“Going forward, I think we can improve on competitive techniques,” said Burke. “A lot of times, it isn’t about being the best surfer, it’s about being the best competitive surfer and knowing how to use the 15 minutes you are given in the best way possible.”

The PLNU surf team hopes to return to championship waters next year with another first-place finish. “All of us will be training and working really hard to continue to better our surfing and come back even stronger next year,” said Kawaguchi. “We want that title again. We want it back to back.”

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