Cormac O’Brien macs at the Mexilog Fest
by E. Solt
Fresh off the jett, Kai Sallas, a Hawaiian professional longboarder, and four time World Surf League Championship runner-up, looked to get his reps out in the playful left of Playa La Saladita, Mexico, in preparation for the 2023 MexiLog fest. In comes South Bay upstart, 14-year-old, Cormac O’Brien, an 8th grader at Perris Middle School, in Redondo Beach. He’s been hanging for a week or two prior to work out his contest jitters. Sallas, also a shaper and surf shop owner in Waikiki, stuffs O’Brien on his first wave.
“The next day, I’m sitting on the inside corner minding my own business and this little double up insider rolls in,” said O’Brien. “Sallas paddles around me and goes.”
Welcome to the big leagues.
“I’m like, no, that’s not going to happen,” said O’Brien
He drops in on Sallas.
“Kai tried to grab my rail and said, ‘What the F kid–get the F off my wave,” O’Brien said. “I looked back at him and said, ‘Going right.’ He was really, really, angry.”
O’Brien would end up drawing Sallas in his first heat.
To help O’Brien mac on the world, Hermosa shaper Adam Davenport, shaped and glassed O’Brien a special Davenport Surfboards, deemed the “Fine Flow,” featuring O’Brien’s trademark abstract – an ode to the O’Brien’s idol, and surf coach Mike Purpus’ colorwork on his ‘60s Jacob’s signature models.
“It’s a very ‘flowy’ board. It noserides amazingly, and can be put on the rail as well. It worked great at Saladita because I could come out of a noseride section and immediately whip a turn, making for more performance surfing,” O’Brien said.
Since the first Mexilog seven years ago, the event held in Saladita, and it’s neighboring wave rich areas, has become one of the world’s premier longboard contests – perfectly catered to a laid back surf scene of professional longboarders.
“The whole town parties, too late, late,” O’Brien said. “Even if you are far away from town, you can hear music and the windows shake.”
As an invitational, surfers are chosen and do not have to grovel in preliminary rounds. The nature of the contest reflects the chill tone. After being invited, Surfers aren’t pitted against each other–just themselves. Winners are decided by overall best six waves caught through multiple heats. You have to select the good ones.
“What are the odds, I thought to myself, of getting Sallas in my first heat — 4 out of 88,” O’Brien said. “He surfed really well. It was a fun hea. Kai deathstared me so I paddled way up the point. He’s kind of a take-no -prisoners guy who has been in the game for a while.”
Sallas ended up winning the event. O’Brien, as the youngest competitor in the field, didn’t advance to the top 16, but made his mark in other ways. On shore, the highly visible young buck wasn’t seen without his cowboy hat.
“Like my mentor Mike Purpus. He wore a competition hat, and I got to wear it at Oceanside when he was in the water for a heat,” O’Brien said. “Now I have my own competition hat, and just like Purp in the ‘70s, all the girls ask to wear it when I’m in the water.”
O’Brien was one of the most photographed competitors, and was given frequent nods by the announcers during his heats.
“Especially before the contests, I’d be hanging five, trying to make my noserides look different for each photographer, like it was a different wave,” O’Brien said. “There would be nine photographers lined up on the inside and a couple out the back and I’d do a different pose for everyone.”
The biggest takeaway for O’Brien was the friends he made during the trips. I’m stoked over someday visiting my new friends in Hawaii, Australia, and Japan.”
He was invited to surf a secret break between heats with Longboard legend and Malibu Ace Kassia Meador.
“I was honored. Kassia is the nicest person ever and one of the best out in the line-up, anywhere,” he said. “We went to this one little left. Perfect. No photographers.”
His team for the Amigos Challenge, a team event that scores surfers collectively, made it to the finals. Even though none of the four members were over the age of 14, they placed second against a lot of big names.
“I put our together team. We had Blaze, Natalia, Katie, and me. We were called ‘‘the Big Dogs,’ and we did surprisingly well,” O’Brien said.
Editor’s Note: Cormac took home first place in the Open Mens Division at The 20h Annual Coastal Edge Steel Pier Classic by Katin a few weeks later.