Vacationing in Laguna Beach with her family from Fredericksburg, Va., Catherine Squilliante delighted a surprised crowd as she out maneuvered more experienced riders in flat conditions at Aliso Beach on Sunday.
In her first event as a pro, the 14-year-old went on to capture the top prize in the women’s division at the 35th annual World Championship of Skimboarding.
On a day filled with firsts, Sam, the younger of two skimming Stinnetts from South Laguna, won his first WCS in four tries. His brother Jake took second. “It’s a dream come true. It’s the best thing that could possibly happen,” said Sam.
Teddy Vlasis (third) and WCS rookie Blair Conklin (fourth) made it an all-SoLag final. Coming in, none of the final four had ever won the sport’s highest profile contest in its acknowledged birthplace. “What more could you ask for?” asked Trigg Garner, general manager of Victoria Skimboards, the event’s promoter and main sponsor.
“I’m so stoked he got first place,” said Vlasis.
With the win, Stinnett moved from third to second in the United Skim Tour standings, only four points behind 14-time world champion Bill Bryan, who finished seventh. “The way Sammy was performing and has been performing at the end of last year and coming into this year, you just had to wonder when he was going to make it to the top,” said Garner.
In local skim circles, Stinnett’s rise to prominence was anticipated since he won his first pro event, Newport Beach’s 2009 Oktoberfest, at 17. But few could have seen Squilliante’s victory coming other than local pro Morgan Just, a Victoria-sponsored rider and 2010 WCS winner.
Just worked with Squilliante recently on the east coast, where there are no women’s pro events. He convinced WCS officials to let her compete in the pro division, despite her lack of pro experience, and recommended that Victoria sign her to a pro contract. “We had a little heads up that she was quite a rider and something to watch,” said Garner, who nevertheless chose to wait out the contest before negotiating.
“She definitely showed us a lot of grit, guts and glory out there,” said Garner, who immediately began talks with Squilliante’s stepmother and lawyer Joni Davis, hoping to put the young phenom on a Victoria skimboard by week’s end.
Building up enough forward momentum before a rider drops his or her board on the wet sand is crucial, especially in flat surf, as it was during the men’s finals. “Every guy out there has to ride those waves,” said Garner, indicating that the poor conditions didn’t favor anyone in particular. “The guy who was riding the best and most consistent throughout the day took the top honors.”
The skim community in Laguna is tight and packed with history. The four men’s finalists, who live within blocks of each other and grew up together, skimming south Laguna breaks, spent the time between the morning semi-finals and afternoon finals kicking back at the Stinnett house. “Really like there was no pressure when I was going into it,” said Sam of the hours leading up to his victory. “It’s just like go and have fun.”
“It’s not like other sports. Everyone, like, wants you to do your best,” said Squilliante, who once pitched for a boys’ little league team.
Squilliante exudes a confidence often lacking in young teens. Though the official results had not yet been made public, she sat munching on chicken fingers and fries and recounted her final wave. “I landed a 360 shuvit at the end with five seconds left,” she said.
Squilliante got her first glimpse of the sport on a family vacation to San Diego when she was 6. She studied some boys riding their primitive wooden boards before convincing her dad to buy her one. She jumped right in. Took her share of diggers. But never gave up.
Back home in Virginia, 200 miles from the nearest beach, “she really doesn’t have too much opportunity to skim,” said her father Bob.
At the girl’s insistence, the family vacations at a second home on the outer banks in North Carolina. Her father, who grew up near the water in Florida, stepmom, and siblings are happy to oblige.
With his daughter’s newfound success, Bob sees more Laguna vacations in his family’s future, especially in mid July. “I think we probably have no choice,” he said.
“I’ve always wanted to come to Laguna because this is, like, the place for skimboarding,” said Squilliante.