Welcome back to the 5 Minute Recap. A quick concise overview of each event on the WSL championship tour. Today, a recap of the Vans US Open of Surfing.
The 2018 US Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach, CA. Stop number 7 of 10 for the women’s championship tour. The men also surfed in Huntington, but only as a qualifying series event. The next men’s CT event starts August 10th in Tahiti, so we’ll reconvene for that.
The previous women’s event, which I neglected to cover was the Corona Open at JBay. That culminated in a spectacular finish to a stellar event that ran in great waves, but was slightly deflated by the fact that day 1 ran on July 6th and the final ran on July 14th. Over a week of lay days between the start and the end of the event resulted in a diffused anticipation that was only partially revitalized when Stephanie Gilmore was crowded champ over Lakey Peterson in the final. And that detail is the most important one to note, Stephanie verses Lakey. This is the mostly evenly contested one on one title race that we’ve had in recent memory, on both the women and the mens side of the CT. Lakey and Steph had each one 2 events going into JBay. They met in the final, the waves were pumping, and Steph trounced her 14.24 to 11.50. It should also noted that Stephenie enlisted the coaching of Jake Paterson for this event. Jake is on a roll with other athletes Griffin Colapinto and Kanoa Igarashi.
The stark contrast between JBay and the US Open in Huntington Beach were the waves. The forecast for HB was absolutely paltry and the waves were the smallest I can remember in the past decade. It added credence to Scott Bass’s rally cry “The waves are the stars” except, as the US Open slogged on, I found myself more engaged in some heats than I was during the JBay event. This happened in Stephanie Gilmore’s narrow quarterfinal win over previous event champ Joanne Defay. It also happened in Quarterfinal 4 where Courtney Conlogue reestablished her home court domination by beating Lakey Peterson. And this engagement was due to “drama”. These were tightly contested heats, where the lead traded back and forth, each surfer besting the other, with high stakes for everyone’s results. Steph and Lakey battling for the ratings lead on opposite ends of the draw, and Courtney battling back from injury and trying to secure requalification. They had barely contestable waves, but the drama and threatened consequence is the pinnacle of sport. The reeling waves at JBay are beautiful to watch, but I can watch that ad naseum via YouTube clips. The real time drama of not knowing whether a wave is coming before the clock runs out, or if the contestant is going to select the right wave, and surf it beyond their potential . . . THAT is the sole purpose of the WSL’s existence. To create and capture moments like that. And further to anticipate them, to cultivate them, to ensure that we are attuned to them, and then to exploit and promote them.
Gratefully this year, Stephanie and Lakey have found in each other worthy opponents. And even more gratefully, Courtney Conlogue was resented every moment of it from the injury sideline. She returned at JBay and lost in Round 2. Went to prep for the US Open at the Supergirl Pro in Oceanside and also had an early exit. She doesn’t have the preternatural talent of Stephanie Gilmore, nor the fundamental technique of Lakey Peterson, but she has a level of tenacity and desire to win that is unrivaled on tour. I’ve the past decade and a half I’ve seen her hundreds of times on Southside Huntington, pre-dawn, battling it out for set waves, milking waves to the sand, training harder than her male cohorts. She will win a world title and the US Open will always be her pet event.
As I mentioned she beat Lakey Peterson in the quarterfinal, soon to be rookie of the year Caroline Marks in the semi, and then met world #1 Stephanie Gilmore in the final. 2 points separated their final scores, 11.86 to 13.83 and a viewer could argue that it was a close heat. But it wasn’t. It was always going to be Courtney’s. She waited nearly 17 minutes for her first wave, a shoulder high set left going straight into the pier and she belted it 3 times with a power and lead-footedness that simply had not been seen throughout the day. Steph exhibited unmatched flow, the exact poise that sets her apart at point breaks, but Courtney’s experience at the pier put her in the biggest waves that presented very critical sections and she powered through each of them with a confidence that we haven’t seen from Courtney since last year.
It’s great have her back. And it’s great to see someone interrupt the Steph/Lakey race. And most importantly, while THE ARENA that is Huntington Beach, the thousands of cheering fans lining the pier and shoreline adds to the excitement, his will not sustain our next arena event at the wave pool that is Surf Ranch. It can add to the experience and it is exciting, but it must be authentically generated. And the source of generation was the very real drama that unfolded with athletes, positioning, paddle battling, and surfing for their career and legacy. And what remains to be proven is whether knowing that a precisely engineered wave is scheduled to arrive will heighten to diffuse all that latent anticipation. We’ll find out on September 6th, 130 miles from the ocean, in Lemoore, California. See you then.
Written, Produced, Hosted: David Scales @David_Lee_Scales