O’Neill Coldwater Classic 2012 at Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz

The O’Neill Coldwater Classic is an annual surfing competition at the iconic Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz, California. The 2012 O’Neill Coldwater Classic held local trials on October 31, and the first round began on Thursday, November 1. After a couple lay days — surf conditions were not adequate — the contest resumed on Sunday and finished on Tuesday, November 6.

The event has taken on various incarnations over the past three decades. For 2012, the O’Neill Coldwater Classic was upgraded by the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) from a second-tier contest on the World Qualifying Series to a first-tier World Championship Tour (WCT) event in celebration of O’Neill’s 60th anniversary. The O’Neill company, founded in 1952 by Jack O’Neill, is known the world over for revolutionizing modern day surfing with the invention of the first wetsuit, along with many other innovations.

As the second to the last stop on the World Championship Tour, the contest brought out record crowds along West Cliff Drive to watch the best professional surfers in the world compete at Steamer Lane. As a result of thousands of spectators on Sunday, West Cliff Dr. along the lighthouse was closed to cars for the first time since 1990 due to the competition.

Surfers do the best they can in 30 or 35 minute heats against one and sometimes two other surfers, with their performances judged on their top two waves. Surfers aim to advance their standings on the ASP World Tour while also competing for a share of the $425,000 prize purse, and sometimes looking for commercial sponsorships.

This year’s event featured surfers from Brazil, including Miguel Pupo (winner in 2011) Adriano De Souza, Gabriel Medina, Raoni Monteiro and Jadson Andre; Australia such as this year’s winner Taj Burrow, runner-up Matt Wilkinson (winner 2010), Joel Parkinson (winner 2000) and Adam Melling; USA including Kelly Slater, C.J. and Damien Hobgood, and Patrick Gudauskas. Other countries, for example, were represented through surfers Jordy Smith of South Africa, Michel Bourez of Tahiti, and Jeremy Flores of France.

The first Coldwater Classic was held in 1985, and won by Santa Cruz local Anthony Ruffo. Santa Cruz surfers who also won the competition are Pete Mel (1997), Chris Gallagher back-to-back in 1998 & 1999, Adam Replogle (2002), Kieran Horn (2003) and Nat Young (2008).

Lighthouse Point, which features the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum inside a lighthouse, is an incredible natural amphitheater to watch surfing. It’s also a fun location for photography, as the sun rises and sets over the Monterey Bay, and a constantly changing pattern of light dances off the rolling waves.

The following 100 photos were taken with a Droid X mobile phone and published using Instagram.