Thursday, January 28, 2016

Jared Houston – The Kind Giant Slayer

It takes a lot of talent to become a bodyboarding champion. It also takes fearlessness, commitment, dedication, and yes, even a little luck. When people look back on Jared Neil Houston’s maiden championship, they will remember it as one of the craziest most dramatic years ever. During his 2015 campaign, Jared had some of his highest highs, some of his lowest lows and enough stress to run a locomotive from here to the moon.

He also showed the heart of a true champion. Rooting for Jared is easy. Being one of the most stylish riders on the planet is one reason and that he is beyond kind is another. He’s also insanely human and very open with his emotions.

During the year, everyone has highlight events/waves/sessions. But this year, Jared on occasion was offered the perfect platform to show how much guts is needed to win and he never disappointed. If you want to see one hell of a performance, check his highlights from the Arica Chilean Challenge. In the event he posted the highest scores and busted one of the craziest airs I’ve ever seen in competition… actually, THREE of the craziest airs I’ve ever seen in competition over jagged unforgiving reef. On his 10 Point ride, he took off on what had to be a 9 foot wave that pushed him onto a 12 foot section and the word hesitation didn’t occur to him ever. That he saw the wave and took off shows courage, that instead of a barrel he gunned to hit the section shows he is on par with Tamega, Stewart, and several other crazy riders who did not come with the fear chip included when they were born. In that event he beat out an in form Amaury Lavernhe who is not only probably the fittest bodyboarder on tour, but who is so crazy consistent it’s like watching clockwork unfolding on a wave. They scored identically but in the count back, Jared had the higher scoring wave and got the nod after launching a massive air off a left that ends up in super shallow reef.

In addition, he won in some of the crappiest conditions during the year. Showing he can go big or tackle conditions that aren’t favorable. He also lost momentum with a couple of early exits during the year, most painfully in his showing in the Encanto Pro at Middles beach in Puerto Rico. Which is where I saw Jared go through as many emotions in a 24 hour period as anyone can and where I saw the guy who will always have me rooting for him.

If you had the best professional heat of your career, what would you do? I’m not sure, but for Jared, the answer shows the true heart of a champion. He hung out with his baby girl on the beach. It wasn’t as if he’d just gotten a perfect ten and gotten out of the water after hitting an air forward spin and a backflip. But there he was, fully aware of the world title stakes in the moment, and he was just chilling with his girl while his wife ran yet another flawless event (but more on Natasha Sagardia in another post).

I was so pumped for him and blown away that this epic rider is a down to earth dad. In his next heat, he got off to a great start and he was with Nelson Flores, a young rider from Chile and 3 time world champion Jeff Hubbard. The beach was abuzz with people lamenting the poor young rider on getting such a tough draw… and apparently he heard us, proceeding to combo both Jared and Jeff with some hefty rolls on about 8 foot faces. Jared had the second advancing spot and did until the last 10 seconds of the heat, when Jeff Hubbard caught a wave, did a flip and just edged past Jared, thus eliminating the South African and leaving his world title chances in the hands of Amaury Lavernhe and Pierre Louis Costes, BOTH former world champions.

As a sidenote, I wanted to meet up with Jared and Natasha, firstly to congratulate them on getting married and on their daughter and to give thanks for the wonderful example they give as individuals and as a family. I had copies of some my books I wanted to give them but wanted to do it at the same time, since four years prior I had injured my back on the beach and Natasha, coordinating the event AND competing always took time to make sure I was Ok.

Then he lost his next heat and I could only feel for the guy. He was gutted, frustrated and emotionally rattled. He wanted to stay shut up indoors until whatever happened happened. Then he got a call from Dave Hubbard, brother to Jeff who just eliminated him, multiple dropknee world champion and the most versatile rider I know of… and one of the coolest guys you’ll ever meet. He left a message saying something on the lines of saying that Jared was one of the best riders on the planet, but that how he behaved in the following hours showed if he could behave like a champion (pardon the botchy paraphrasing but can’t find the transcript). Jared then sucked it up and went back to the event site knowing full well he needed Amaury Lavernhe to not make it past Heat 7 and for Pierre Louis Costes to not win the event.

So when Amaury lost his Round 7 heat… the spark of hope roared into a flame and Jared could still dream of a world title. He just needed one of the most consistent riders and a good friend to not be able to take the event…. And that’s just what happened. In a stroke of poetic justice, it was in the hands of the same guy who eliminated him in Round 6 to win the event and out of the gates Jeff Hubbard had every intention to do his part so Jerry won the title and he won the event.

When that happened and it was announced that he was world champion, I can’t begin to imagine what he felt and not because he did so in private, but because the dam broke and his emotions soared up and out of him. Relief, elation, joy, sadness, everything, every last bit of his feelings came out and he showed that although he kills giants of waves on his board, Jared Neil Houston is a wonderful human being capable of loving his family unconditionally and inspiring a whole new generation of board riders.

 To celebrate this upcoming season, here’s a clip from his riding in 2015 on his way to his world championship.

As for 2016, we’ll be rooting for ya Jerry, whether it’s in the water or out of it.

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