When you funnel Southern California's rampant summer population, along with an influx of international surfers, to Surf City's Huntington Beach Pier in late July, you get the sights and shockers that are the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing.
Some of those sights included Hawaii's Alana Blanchard getting approached during a live interview by a streaker screaming, "I love you, Alana!" Then there was the girl-on-girl brawl and “riots” that made a splash in the media. A hazy dust even filled the air around the contest site thanks to 750,000 onlookers trudging through the sand. And, as for the shockers, in the finals, Brazil's Alejo Muniz outpaced local favorite Kolohe Andino for the win, earning a $100,000 check and 6,500 ASP points. Heavyweights Kelly Slater and CJ Hobgood were also out-dueled in back-to-back heats during the Round of 24.
No one expected Slater to fall so early. But Michel Bourez was on his game with a patented combination of power surfing and progressive above-the-lip maneuvers, and the wind was starting to mush out the two- to four-foot swell. Bourez snagged the first wave of the heat, earning a 5.63 — a high score considering the conditions — and Slater never was quite able to eclipse it. But he did muster a handful of small scores, trying to hack away at Bourez’s lead. Then, with just seconds left, Bourez allowed Slater to pick off a wave that the commentators believed had won him the heat. But the judges didn't agree. Slater was sent packing, losing by 0.26 of a point.
"I knew he was going to try to put a show on and do some big airs," Bourez said in an interview after the heat. "I saw him trying to look for the rights, and my goal was to catch a few lefts first. Then I got that right and tried that air, so that was the good one for me. I saw Kelly from behind on that last wave, and he did five or six turns and the wave was really tiny. I heard the crowd cheer and thought maybe I made a mistake."
As Bourez’s interview continued, the next heat opened with CJ Hobgood taking an early lead over the Basque Country's Hodei Collazo, currently No. 127 on the ASP World Ranking. Collazo pulled off a 7.07 halfway through the heat, and just like Kelly, CJ wasn't able to come up with a better score, losing by 0.30 of a point. "That was really close," Collazo said after the heat. "C.J. started with a 6.60 and a 5.50, and I tried to be patient and wait for the best waves. Luckily, I had priority at the end, and I was able to get the score. I tried to push hard on my turns, and I knew it was going to be close."
A day earlier, four well-known East Coasters were eliminated in the Round of 48. But who they lost to spoke volumes. Florida's Cory Lopez lost to Hawaii's Granger Larsen, who advanced all the way to the Round of 16 before being eliminated. On his way to a Semifinal finish, Australia's Matt Banting edged out Virginia's Michael Dunphy. Florida's Gabe Kling and Evan Geiselman also lost to Santa Cruz's Nat Young and Australian Mitch Crews, both of whom advanced to the Round of 16.
But there was one bright spot for the East Coast. Florida's very own Justin Quintal won perhaps the most stylish surfing contest that has ever existed in Huntington Beach. This year’s U.S. Open incorporated the Vans Joel Tudor Duct Tape Invitational for the first time, drawing top longboarding purists from across the globe. But none were a match for Quintal, as he beat out San Clemente's Andy Nieblas, Encinitas's Ryan Burch, and Newport's Alex Knost to take the win, his third Duct Tape Invitational title and first U.S. Open victory.
“I’ve gotten 2nd at the U.S. Open before and I’ve gotten 3rd, but I’ve always wanted to win it, so I’m really happy just to finally get a win there,” Justin said. “Honestly, at Huntington, the conditions are the toughest part. So, going into it, I was really just trying to pay attention to what the water was doing, not necessarily the other competitors. And the waves ended up being super fun. It was waist- to chest-high with a couple of bigger sets every now and then, and it was just really playful for a log.”
But besides Quintal's monumental win, East Coasters just weren't the highlight of this year’s U.S Open. But then again, neither were our friends from the west. It was the international field that stole the spotlight and the U.S. Open victory. But with that contest now out of sight and out of mind, Kelly and company will next head to the Billabong Pro in Tahiti on August 15th, a spot where The Champ has been consistently on-point. Just look at his numbers — he has an 80.39% win rate in Tahiti, he’s won the event four times, nailed a perfect heat in 2005, and has a 100% win rate in the final.
Kelly is currently sitting second, only behind Mick Fanning in the ASP ratings, and barring a poor showing in Tahiti or a blitzkrieg from either Mick or Joel Parkinson, Kelly is in prime position to take the lead at the halfway mark of the season. Perhaps he's on his way to an unprecedented 12th world title, or perhaps this is a final farewell tour — either one would be a sight, but definitely not a shocker.