The US Open is undoubtedly one of the biggest events in surfing. Maybe not in terms of wave quality or even overall importance, but when you get to talking about sheer size, the incredible numbers of people that show up on the sand every year in seething masses put this event in a league all its own. And the massive surf industry presence and music festival atmosphere make it equal parts circus and surf contest. But with that many eyes trained on our sport’s best athletes, each summer Huntington Beach becomes the biggest stage in all of surfing, and the pressure to perform tops out the scale. Victory gets that much sweeter and defeat all the more devastating. This year, most of our East Coast contenders were met with the later emotion, and it’s hard to say exactly why. The waves were small — in the chest-high range at best and a bit mushy and bumpy — but those are exactly the sort of conditions you’d think our guys and girls would excel in. Many ended up struggling, but it wasn’t all bad.
Virginia Beach’s Michael Dunphy made the Day 2 video highlight reel for his solid performance in the trials. He made it through the first two rounds with relative ease, and in the final round, he missed out on his ticket into the main event by just .76 of a point in a tight heat with Hawaiians Keanu Asing and Torrey Meister. In the first round of the Men’s Pro division, another young East Coast surfer, New Smyrna Beach, FL's, Evan Geiselman, was fresh off a recent ankle injury yet still managed to take down the likes of world #1 Mick Fanning, Tanner Gudauskas, and Nathan Hedge with a cunning combination of traditional rail work and new-school aerial assault. “I was super excited just to surf,” Geiselman said. “I’ve been out for two-and-a-half months with an ankle injury, and it was so nerve racking. I’ve had butterflies for the last two days. I was so anxious just to get that heat done with, and I’m just super happy to have a good heat for the first heat of the morning."
Fellow Floridians and World Tour veterans CJ Hobgood and Cory Lopez didn’t fair quite as well. They both went down despite giving it their all in a wave-barren, low-scoring Round of 96 heat. In fact, CJ missed the cut by just .07 of a point. “You just get lucky if you’re in the right position for a set, and there weren’t that many out there,” said heat winner Daniel Ross. “CJ and those guys are so good when it’s small like this, so it was just lucky that I got that one good left and surfed it well.”
Damien Hobgood met a similar fate to his brother, as did La Isla Del Encanto’s Brian Toth. But it was hard to get Toth’s spirits down, as he’s currently sitting at #28 in the world rankings and knows he’s got a good shot at ending up on next year’s WCT— which would make him the first Puerto Rican ever to do so. “It’s been a great year and I’m just trying not to stress out about it,” he said. “This year I’ve just taken the weight off and gone with the flow.”
Floridian and new father Gabe Kling advanced through his first heat convincingly only to lose out in the next round by fractions of a point, and Evan Geiselman’s run came to a close in the Round of 48 as well. But all hope was not lost on the Men’s side. We did, after all, have Kelly Slater. The Champ cruised his way to victory through preliminary rounds, excepting a slight stumble in the non-elimination round of 24, and found himself matched up against Dane Reynolds in what was surely every grom’s dream quarterfinals heat. Dane faltered and had trouble fully pulling off his maneuvers, meanwhile, Kelly attacked with a crowd-pleasing combination of signature hacks and smooth airs.
But Slater’s magic seemed to run out in his semi-finals matchup with Miguel Pupo. The young Brazilian cleanly stomped huge airs, and Kelly fought back hard, but collisions and near-collisions with the pier on both of his scoring rides left him with a few incomplete maneuvers, and it was enough to cost him the win. “It’s just a little frustrating,” Kelly said. “I had the opportunity, but I always knew Miguel was the guy to beat in this contest.”
Slater may not have made it to the finals, but New York’s Quincy Davis charged her way to a third-place finish on the Junior Women’s side. Florida’s Jasset Umble and Haley Watson were eliminated in the first round along with Chelsea Roett from Barbados, but Quincy was looking strong as she worked her way to the quarters, semis, and finals. She got off to a good start in her final heat and even led for a while, but then eventual winner, Australia’s Nikki Van Dijk, really turned on the heat about halfway through, and Hawaii’s Leila Hurst posted a buzzer beater that connected all the way to the inside, narrowly dropping Quincy into third. But Davis was still rewarded with $750 for her efforts and logged the East Coast’s best result. Not too shabby.
On the Junior Men’s side of things, Floridians Knox Harris, Noah Schweizer, Luke Marks, Nathan Behl, Chris Tucker, and Daniel Glenn all went down in the first round, along with New Jersey’s Pat Schmidt and PJ Raia and North Carolina’s Knox Harris and Mason Barnes. Even though the field substantially narrowed, a few East Coast representatives made it into the second round. Jacksonville Beach, FL’s, Evan Thompson logged a convincing victory over west coast phenoms Parker Coffin and Trevor Thornton, and South Carolina’s Cam Richards also dominated in the first round. Meanwhile, Jupiter, FL’s, Giorgio Gomez squeaked by in a particularly low-scoring heat. Fellow Sunshine state resident Tanner Strohmenger and North Carolina’s Dylan Kowalski also made the cut, but by the end of Round 2, the fun was over for everyone except Evan Thompson.
Thompson rode to victory in the second round by a solid four-point gap, but in the quarterfinals, despite throwing down a few truly impressive hacks, he fell to South Africa’s Michael February by a fraction of a point — but not before he had caught the attention of the crowd and the announcers. “I like that first turn, very different,” they said. “He takes the low road and has enough patience to fit in that third turn. He looks great right here. He ripped that wave. It was really good surfing.” North Florida’s Justin Quintal also put on a good show in the noseriding contest, although Joel Tudor ultimately claimed the victory. And overall, despite the fact that some of our East Coast representatives didn’t make it as far as they would have hoped, this year’s US Open was a great chance for our guys and girls to get some exposure on surfing’s big stage and leave a lasting impression. And it’s exactly that sort of opportunity that makes the US Open surfing's "greatest show on earth."