Gabe Taylor, who recovered from a ruptured spleen that required emergency surgery last year, won the 11th Annual H20 Winter Classic with some excellent snowboarding, and pretty good surfing as well. “I?m super stoked,” he says after winning the event. “I?ve done this contest for about four years and kept coming up short. I tied for fifth in surfing. For me it?s a good excuse to get out of the snow, where I am all year. I was a little nervous at first because it was a contest, but then got a couple of waves and it was okay.”

The annual event pits surfers and snowboarders against each other in the surf at Huntington Beach one day, then on the snow at Mountain High Resort the next for a chance to win the $20,00 prize purse.

The surf side proved finicky, as Huntington often does. With slightly blown out, mid-afternoon surf that ranged in the mostly knee-to-chest high range, all contestants were put to the test. The Huntington hop was in full force as surfers struggled to get longer rides out of the mushy conditions. In the surf finals, longtime Huntington local Jeff Deffenbaugh used his hometown knowledge to work over crumbly lefts with a vicious backside attack on the south side of the pier. “This is an unbelievable event,” says Deffenbaugh. “The surf was good yesterday, and up on the snow it was unbelievable. They put on a really professional event.

He says his local knowledge paid off at Huntington. “I?ve been surfing there forever, since I was a kid and I?ve won the event before. This is my backyard. The best ripped waves, the best selected waves, usually win. And I had a magic new board that my brother just shaped for me.”

Giving him solid competition was Bron Heusenstamm from Laguna Beach, who has also surfed his fair share of Huntington reforms. Heusenstamm spent more time working the longer, better shaped rights, but wasn?t ripping the waves as aggressively as Deffenbaugh. “It was a cool, fun event. I did just my normal surf contest routine in the water. I?ve surfed a ton of contests there and know that wave pretty well, but obviously not as well as Deffenbaugh. But I just gave it my best, but came up just a little short.”

In an interesting twist, Heusenstamm says he hadn?t snowboarded for six years, but that didn?t stop him from doing what he needed to end up on the podium. “My first couple of runs I was freaking out, and I was scared, but then got comfortable, and by the end of the day I didn?t even care, I was just flying off of everything.”

In an interesting twist, the seeding for the surf portion of the event pitted all the snowboarders against each other on one side of the bracket, while the pro surfers were on the other side of the bracket. This led to an evenly matched final with two pro surfers dueling two pro snowboarders, although from the moves in the water, boarders Marcus Stocker and Jesse Marley looked like they belonged in the final regardless of whatever side of the ladder they came from.

The snowboard portion of the event pitted the field against a challenging terrain park with a series of rails and kickers that proved both formidable and entertaining. As with past Winter Classics, sometimes things aren?t so serious, as one surfer decided to snowboard in his wetsuit, which probably pleased his sponsors.

Ryan McConnell captured this year?s amateur title, while Jessica Oswald made H2O history by becoming the first ever H2O Winter Classic Women?s Champion. Brian Harris from Dragon Optical took the industry division. “This is the best bragging rights you can have,” he says afterward. “This is hand?s down one of the best events out there. It?s just a really fun atmosphere.”

“I?m happy I got to compete,” said pro snowboarder Gabe Taylor, the 2003 H2O Winter Classic Professional Champion. “The H2O is so fun and a good excuse to surf and hang out with friends. I have a ton of respect for all the athletes and for the event, which is why I keep coming back.”

Presented this year by the HHonda Element and sponsored by longtime supporter Hurley International, the H2O Winter Classic gathers professionals, amateurs, and action sports industry leaders to compete in a weekend of surfing and snowboarding in their own divisions to determine who will be crowned overall board sports champion. The event will be broadcast in March 17 on Fox Sports Net; viewers should check their local listings for exact airdates and times.

This year?s field was among the best to compete in the H2O Winter Classic. Pro surfers Christian Fletcher and Kyle Knox took part in the two-day contest, as did pro snowboarders Brian Richardson, Blaise Rosenthal, and Justin Lamoureux. The women?s division was graced by the presence of pro surfer Jodie Nelson, as well as up-and-comers Jessica Oswald, Anastacia Ashley, and Tanya Booth, who unfortunately was injured in the snowboarding competition and had to be rushed to the hospital.

Said Jessica Oswald, the 2003 H2O Winter Classic Women?s Champion: “I?ve talked about competing in the H2O for the last three years, and I?m so glad I finally did it. I?m happy, surprised, and thankful that I won the women?s division. Most importantly, I want to wish Tanya a quick recovery.”

Along with the Honda Element and Hurley International, sponsors of the 2003 H2O Winter Classic included Mountain High, Wahoo’s Fish Tacos, Fender Guitars, Nixon, and 24-Hour Fitness. Media sponsors included KROQ 106.7 and Mean Street and Happy magazines.

Official 2003 H2O Winter Classic results are as follows:

Professional Division

Surf

1. Jeff Deffenbaugh ? Huntington Beach, CA

2. Bron Heusenstamm ? Laguna Beach, CA

3. Marcus Stocker ? Sydney, AUS

4. Jesse Marley ? Huntington Beach, CA

Snow

1. Gabe Taylor ? San Diego, CA

2. Justin Lamoureux ? Whistler BC, CAN

3. Christian Fletcher ? San Clemente, CA

4. Kyle Knox ? San Diego, CA

Overall

1. Gabe Taylor ? San Diego, CA

2. Bron Heusenstamm ? Laguna Beach, CA

3. Kyle Knox ? San Diego, CA

4. Jeff Deffenbaugh ? Huntington Beach, CA

Amateur Division

Surf

1. Tyler Moorehead ? Laguna Niguel, CA

2. Mark Austin ? San Clemente, CA

3. Scott Storrs ? San Elijo, CA

4. Dan Dowden ? San Diego, CA

Snow

1. Ryan McConnell ? Ventura, CA

2. Chad Martin ? San Clemente, CA

3. Chad Huff ? Seal Beach, CA

4. Maximus James ? Lake Forest, CA

Overall

1. Ryan McConnell ? Ventura, CA

2. Tyler Moorehead ? Laguna Niguel, CA

3. Scott Storrs ? San Elijo, CA

4. Maximus James ? Lake Forest, CA

Women?s Division

Surf

1. Anastacia Ashley ? San Clemente, CA

2. Jodie Nelson ? Surfside, CA

3. Allison Arvizu ? Huntington Beach, CA

Snow

1. Dresden Howell ? Carlsbad, CA

2. Jessica Oswald ? Santa Cruz, CA

3. Allison Arvizu ? Huntington Beach, CA

Overall

1. Jessica Oswald ? Santa Cruz, CA

2. Allison Arvizu ? Huntington Beach, CA3. Jodie Nelson ? Surfside, CA

Industry Division

Surf

1. Brian Harris from Dragon Optical ? Oceanside, CA

Snow

1. Steve Titus from Blackline Environments ? Newport Beach, CA

Overall

1. Brian Harris from Dragon Optical ? Oceanside, CA

About the H2O Winter ClassicThe H2O Winter Classic presents a unique opportunity for professionals, amateurs, and action sports industry leaders to compete in a weekend of surfing and snowboarding, each in their own divisions. Vipe Desai, President of Propaganda Headquarters, Inc., began the event in 1992 when he owned the H2O Surf and Snowboard Shop in Sunset Beach, CA. The contest has since become a template for the proliferation of events that marry action sports and live music in a festival-like atmosphere. For more information, visit the event website at www.H2OWinterClassic.com.