A day at the VANS US Open of Surfing
I got Justin, a surfer from New Jersey, for a guest Blogpost. Justin was born and raised in on the east coast of the US, New Jersey. He moved to California about a year ago. Surf on the east coast is known for its rough and tricky conditions.
During the summer time, it is pretty flat and crowded, but the occasional hurricane swell lights up the coastline. During the winter, the water is 1 degree celsius, and strong wind swell makes most of the waves. Justin fell in love with surfing over 10 years ago. Since then, you could find him in the water almost every day. In NJ, that often means surfing 1ft waves crashing on the beach or violent, stormy conditions reminiscent of the waves in the open ocean. Thats why Justin enjoys the consistently nice waves of California even more right now. With that in mind, now it's time to hear about his time at the US Open.
"As I walked under the infamous pier, Felipe Toledo punted a huge air reverse right in front of me, and hundreds of people erupted into cheers! This was the first time I have ever been to a professional surf contest, and nothing could have prepared me for this.
I couldn’t breath. I watch the contests all the time online, but I have never seen professional caliber surfing in person. It was so far beyond my expectations!
Within moments of arriving, we had a literal front row seat to some of the best surfers in the world as they tore into the tricky walls of the infamous Huntington Beach.The crowd at the US Open of Surfing is electric! Everyone is nervously hanging onto the railings of the pier, or gripping their feet tight to the sand as they symbolically dig into the wax with every bottom turn their favorite surfer takes.
This was finals day of the US Open, and we arrived during the men’s semi final as Kanoa took down Felipe in a tense matchup due to an interference by Felipe. There was a huge amount of support for fellow countrymen. Despite the presence local favorites like Kanoa, Carlos Munoz, who lost a close semi-final heat, had the most support on the beach. His mother, and an army of Costa Rican friends, were there to ease the burns of losing and congratulate him on making it so far. The Costa Rican flags waved high and proud that day in Huntington California, and with it came the Pura Vida spirit I became so familiar with on my own visit to Costa Rica.
In close second came the international presence so often felt at surf events, the Brazilians. I once heard a commentator say if there was an amateur curling match in Canada where a Brazilian competitor was participating, there would be Brazilian’s cheering them on. This sentiment remained true! Every time Tomas Hermes and Felipe Toledo took to the air, a rush of support came from the crowd in Portuguese.
It was a beautiful showing of pride and respect for what these men and women are able to do.
Despite the strong international presence, the hometown heroes stole the show that day for the men and women. It is truly amazing to watch local knowledge come into play at the professional level. Even the most hardened tour veterans, like the Kelly’s, the John John’s, the Carissa Moore’s, and the Stephanie Gilmore’s, that cast such a large intimidating shadow over the World Tour, can be ousted by the most unassuming assailants on any given day at their local break.
While Kanoa and Sage are no slouches by any means, their local knowledge was tangible in their heats. No heat was this more apparent than in their finals! Tomas Hermes and Tatiana Weston-Webb were hungry competitors, and neither of them had any disconnect from the tricky wave. The dreaded inside connection, which is difficult to navigate for even the most fluid and sure footed surfers, was usually not an issue for either of them. Tatiana blasted a few huge maneuvers not more than 10 meters away from us. Tomas Hermes had a sick air reverse on the inside! How could they possibly lose?!? Two words: Local. Knowledge.
Kanoa’s opening wave had so many VERTICAL backside gouges on the outside that I lost count in the excitement. As soon as he finished killing the outside of the wave, I told Dani “That was a 9! I think he just won!”
When i looked back at the pictures, i realized how fast he really is. The water he displaced was still flying in big beautiful archs as he was already en route to his next victim. He had Tomas needing two brand new scores for most of the heat, and he was left sitting comfortably enough to let loose on the skatepark-esque Huntington ramps he is so at home with. Sage had a similar wave, with three backside hacks and an inside closer, to take the lead in the dying moments with a high 6.
With lully long period conditions that went 10 minutes or more without sets, both victors sat with icy nerves. As a result, they were on the best waves of the heat. Tomas Hermes, who started swiftly, was left wanting a wave to unleash his potential on. He found it, but it was moments after the horn sounded to end the heat.
Tatiana had a similar approach. She came out of the gates firing, and she caught 10 waves to Sage’s 5. Sage watched as Tatiana took of on wave after wave. The victory seemed like it was Tatiana’s for sure. I am positive it would have been Tatiana winning the US open for the second year in a row, but she couldn't ride out of the inside section of her second to last wave. A 7 turned into a 4 as the bottom of the wave completely dropped out and swallowed her nose whole. She did not make the same mistake on her last wave, as she slammed the lip on her backside and disappeared into the whitewater. It was not enough to make the difference though, with only two turns on the wave to Sage’s four maneuvers.
Most of Tomas’s and Tatiana’s waves transpired the same way: one BIG maneuver on the outside and one BIG maneuver on the inside of smaller waves than their competitors. Patience, and knowledge to know which ones they could reel off multiple searing moves on the outside, was the key out there.
Home court advantage makes such a big difference in surfing, because you learn the nuances of the wave.I remember watching the first and last pro contest near my hometown in New Jersey, at the New York contest. It was obvious the struggle the competitors faced with the seemingly perfect conditions.
I think it was Bobby Martinez, a Cali local, that said it was so hard to push through the maneuvers there with full power, because the wave wouldn’t give that tactile feedback and push needed to complete the maneuver. It'd leave the competitors out the back wondering where the head high wave went that should have been more than strong enough to push back. They had to dial back their power to adjust for it.
That sentiment sunk in heavily when I surfed in Santa Cruz California for the first time. Steamer Lane is such an unassumingly powerful wave that comes in like a slow, but mighty, steam roller. Being in front of a set rolling through is not a fun place. It plows into you, through you, over you. In other words, you feel it! And afterwards, you’re several meters from where you were before wondering who was driving a tractor trailer through the ocean until you have your senses enough to realize how absurd that thought was.
The waves on the east coast, comprised mostly of wind swell, have a lot of power! But... its different? Its up and down power. It rears its ugly head and closes out straight down usually dumping a load of bricks on your head. You bounce off the bottom and come straight back up. The waves in California have so much more lateral push to them. Being on the right waves can make such a difference in surfing, and its a beautiful thing to watch and experience.
Anytime you go to a new spot, talk to the people who surf it every day. You can learn so much from them. It can make a huge difference between a good day and a bad day. The best proof of that was Adriano DeSouza and his pipe masters victory. He went straight to the source: Jamie O’brien. The guy who lives at pipe and has won both the Pipe Pro and Pipe Masters.
But For now, cheers to Kanoa and Sage for utilizing their local knowledge and support that day! There must be no greater feeling than your friends and family, that were with you when you surfed there all those years, diving into the water to congratulate you for winning the contest you grew up watching your heroes surf in!"
Thanks to Justin for that amazing article about "A day at the US Open of Surfing". Justin will probably also visit the Pipe Masters in Hawaii. I'm already looking forward to an article about "A day at the Pipe Masters".