Gudauskas brothers

The pro surfing Gudauskas brothers of San Clemente -- (from left) identical twins Dane and Pat and younger brother Tanner -- at the Riviera tunnel near their local break. (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times / February 11, 2010)

 


For Patrick and Tanner Gudauskas, the dream will be realized surrealistically as they catch their first waves during the Quiksilver Pro at Snapper Rocks on Australia's Gold Coast.

Thousands of fans in a natural amphitheater will cheer every surfer's slashing top-turn, cutback and aerial. Giant TV screens will enable even the athletes to glimpse replays as they sprint up the beach to paddle back out after each long ride.

"It's pretty much a dream come true; you can't really say anything more than that," Patrick Gudauskas, 24, said of his long-anticipated arrival onto the sport's highest plateau. "This is what you're dreaming about."

The festival-like gala, scheduled to begin Saturday, marks the beginning of the 2010 Assn. of Surfing Professionals' World Tour, which boasts the top 45 wave riders.

Patrick and Tanner, two of three Gudauskas brothers who for years starred as amateurs and on the ASP qualifying circuit, are World Tour rookies eager to finally match skills with legendary figures such as nine-time world champion Kelly Slater and reigning champ Mick Fanning of Australia.

Known for their powerful new-age style, beaming grins and positive energy, or stoke, the San Clemente brothers are part of a stellar crop of newcomers and, with fellow rookies Nathan Yeomans (San Clemente) and Brett Simpson (Huntington Beach), they will substantially bolster the ranks of Southern Californians on a roster long dominated by Australians.

"They're phenomenal athletes and I would argue that their qualification ushers in an exciting new breed of athlete from the Golden State," said Brodie Carr, chief executive of the Australia-based ASP International.

Not since 1990, when Santa Barbara's Tom Curren won the world title, has a Southern Californian worn the crown.

"My goal is to come out with guns blazing," says Patrick Gudauskas, who finished second to Australia's Ross Daniel on the 2009 qualifying tour. "My goal is to win the world title; that's why we're here."

The brothers, like Florida's veteran Hobgood twins, C.J. and Damien, represent a dual threat -- and had Patrick's twin brother, Dane, also qualified, their story would be even better.

Regardless, the Gudauskas boys, the best trio of sibling surfers in the history of competitive surfing, have come of age as one.

They shared a bedroom well into their high-school years, while growing up with parents Tom and Nancy. Now they share a five-bedroom house they recently purchased, thanks to a lucrative sponsorship deal with shoe company Vans.

They're famously polite and articulate, perhaps stemming from Tom Gudauskas' oft-issued slogan: "School is No. 1, surfing is just for fun," and his readily spoken proclamation: "All things besides surfing make up the human being."

His sons posted mostly A's at San Clemente High, but their paths became clear when they began to dominate National Scholastic Surfing Assn. contests.

Patrick won five national titles, including the prestigious Open Men's division title in 2003. Dane won the Open Men's title in 2004. Tanner, who is three years younger, won two national titles and starred for the U.S. junior team before joining his brothers on the ASP World Qualifying Series tour.

"They're the most decorated brothers in the NSSA's 32-year history," said Janice Aragon, the NSSA's longtime executive director.

The bonding continued on the grueling WQS tour, aptly referred to as "the Grind." Surfers hoping to qualify for "the Dream Tour" must compete against 200 others in at least 20 contests during a given season.

Athletes make their own travel arrangements and many are too young to rent a car, so they hitch rides and use trains and buses, toting surfboards and other cumbersome gear.

Patrick and Tanner shared a laugh as Dane recalled the time the brothers arrived in France a day later than planned and lost their reservation. They drove the country on a fruitless search for a hotel room.

"So we ended up sleeping in random parking lots literally on the hoods of cars," Dane says. "But finally the owner of a small hotel let us sleep in a utility closet. So we spent four nights on the streets and three nights in a utility closet -- and still had to surf our heats."

Simpson says of globe-trotting with the brothers: "While traveling, you find people who want to be there and those who are just dreading it. But look at the lives we're leading and what we're trying to accomplish -- and that's the way they look at it."

Patrick Gudauskas, who twice came just a few turns shy of qualifying, elevated his performance in 2009 and clinched a World Tour spot before the season-ending Hawaiian swing.

He displayed his mettle emphatically last June, when he launched the first rodeo-clown air -- a 540-degree inverted flip -- in a major ASP contest. He had trailed late in his heat and the maneuver, which received a perfect 10, propelled him through the round of 16 and helped him pick up valuable qualification points.

Tanner's WQS odyssey had a fairy-tale ending. The World Tour would accept the top 15 and he was 16th going into the season finale at Oahu's Sunset Beach.

While others on the qualifying bubble were systematically eliminated, he advanced to the round of 32 and landed in a four-man heat with both brothers and friend Mason Ho. Tanner needed only to finish third but won the heat and beamed profoundly when it was announced he had attained surfing's next level.

"I was over the moon," he says.

Yeomans and Simpson finished the WQS season eighth and 10th, respectively, leaving only one Gudauskas to tackle the Grind again this year.

Says Dane: "Everyone was on their own journey, but we were all trying together so it was like we were all part of every win and loss, so it was hard. But to see it come down to that final competition was pretty cool, and to see it go in a positive direction for those guys was a really nice treat."