Thousands of people flocked Saturday to San Onofre state beach just south of San Clemente on the edge between San Diego and Orange County to watch the World Surf League Finals, featuring the world’s best surfers.

Contestants Filipe Toledo, 28, and Ethan Ewing, 25, before going out for their rounds for the WSL finals on Sept. 9, 2023. Credit: MAXIMO SANTANA, Voice of OC

At the end of the day the champions were Filipe Toledo, 28, for the men’s division and Caroline Marks for the women’s division. Both of these champions live in San Clemente showing San Clemente’s domination in this competition.

Another San Clemente competitor, Griffin Colapinto, had a large following with many stickers and signs up supporting him, illustrating San Clemente’s influence on surf culture.  

A pole covered with stickers supporting Griffin Colapinto, one of the contestants participating in the WSL finals on Sept. 9, 2023. Credit: MAXIMO SANTANA, Voice of OC
From left, OC Register Photographer Mindy Schauer and Reporter Laylan Connelly covering the WSL Finals on Sept. 9, 2023.

“Surfing is a huge part of the culture in San Clemente” said Laylan Connelly, The Orange County Register’s beach reporter, who was recently inducted into the surfer hall of fame and was on hand to cover the event.

Editor’s note: This is an occasional series where Voice of OC works with local community photographers to offer residents a first-hand look at the local sites and scenes of Orange County.

Now based in Santa Monica, the  World Surf League was established in 1976 by Hawaiian surfers Fred Hemmings and Randy Rarick and the series has created something that both locals and visitors flock to enjoy.

This year the WSL has hosted 10 regular season events in seven different countries as far away as Bali, Tahiti and Portugal, all leading up to the finals at Lower Trestles. The events are made up of rounds where surfers try to catch their two highest scoring waves and the judges will score them on a scale of 1-10.

A man waves a flag during the Rip Curl WSL Finals in San Clemente on Sept. 9, 2023. Credit: ANNA MORISAWA, Voice of OC

While the event, which takes place on the beach shoreline, is free to watch, it takes a certain type to get there, with attendees having to walk through dirt trails and over train tracks to reach the competition area.

Kelly Small, 33, had fun showing off the train to her son, Logan, 2, as they walked from the event. 

Scott Crismon, 44, and his son Emmett, 12, biked over to support Colapinto. 

Kelli Anderson, 43, and her daughter Drew Anderson, 9, came all the way out from Scottsdale Arizona to watch the finals, rooting for their favorite surfer, Carissa Moore.

Grant Hemmingway and Rex Kraus were also out walking the San Onofre beach supporting Colapinto as well, however after he lost his round they edited their sign to support Filipe Toledo, another San Clemente contestant.

Despite huge crowds the event was smoothly run, with one security guard, Sorraya Edwards, 19, saying that the crowd was well behaved.

Victorville resident, Sorraya Edwards, 19, security staff for the WSL Finals watches over the crowd on Sept. 9, 2023. Credit: MAXIMO SANTANA, Voice of OC

Having an event so heavily dependent on unpredictable swells can be challenging. Because the event only takes place for one day, organizers have to estimate which day will have the best swells during a week-long waiting period; the event’s first day was postponed due to unsuitable waves.

Lower Trestles, one of five of the iconic surf breaks and San Onofre, was chosen for the event due to the fact that they were forecasted to have the best chance for turns and carves where the five competitors from the top five men and top five women can give their best performance for the final tournament of the year, Connelly said.

“Today had really slopey high performance style waves” said Connelly.

Event announcers gave a shout out to their partners at Surfline, noting that the event relied on accurate forecasting of the swells and weather.

Based in Huntington Beach, Surfline started as a pay-per-call telephone surf report in 1985 by Jerry Arnold, Craig Masuoka and David Wilk. Surfline uses the help of around 15 meteorologists and cameras so that surfers can stay updated with local swells.

Here’s a look at all the people who showed up to take in the surfers and swells.

A contestant rides a wave at the Lower Trestles on Sept. 9, 2023. Credit: MAXIMO SANTANA, Voice of OC
Cole Hartman, 17, watches the surf competition, where his family member, Surf Pro Griffin Colapinto is participating. Credit: ANNA MORISAWA, Voice of OC
Crowds gathered to watch surfers ride theSept. 9, 2023 waves during the Curl WSL Finals in San Clemente. Credit: ANNA MORISAWA, Voice of OC
Contestant Carissa Moore paddling back in after her round at the WSL finals on Sept. 9, 2023. Credit: MAXIMO SANTANA, Voice of OC
A WSL finals banner advertising the event in the Lower Trestles on Sept. 9, 2023. Credit: MAXIMO SANTANA, Voice of OC
Crowds gathered on Sept. 9, 2023, to watch the Rip Curl WSL Finals in San Clemente. Credit: ANNA MORISAWA, Voice of OC
A surfer rides a wave in San Clemente on Sept. 8, 2023. Credit: JAKE RANDAZZO, Voice of OC
A group of kids play with a miniature surfer at the WSL Finals on Sept. 9, 2023. Credit: MAXIMO SANTANA, Voice of OC


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