Stop 6 of the World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT), the Vans US Open of Surfing, kicked off with Rounds 1 and 2 in clean four-to-five foot+ (1.2 - 1.5+ metre) waves. The competition saw impressive performances from the world elite, but it was the Frenchwomen who stole the show today with top scores and big upsets. The Men’s Qualifying Series (QS) 10,000 event followed as Round 2, Heats 9 through 13, finished the day with an incredible showcase of progressive surfing.
2015 Vans US Open event winner Johanne Defay (FRA) dominated the opening heat of Round 1 with the highest two-wave score of the day, a commanding 17.00 (out of a possible 20). Defay fired off an excellent 8.00 (out of a possible 10) and followed that up with a near-perfect 9.00, which was also the highest single-wave score of the day. Defay’s sharp surfing forced competitors Carissa Moore (HAW) and Silvana Lima (BRA) to surf again in elimination Round 2.
“It’s special here being my first CT win, but then last year I lost in the second round,” said Defay. “I’m just really happy there are good waves out there. There’s always a lot of water moving here so the board I’m on just helps keep the line and with the lower tide you won’t make the inside every time. I was just thinking I need to get one or two good hits to get the score. I wasn’t sure about my board at first, but I’m happy it was a good choice.”
Trials winner Maud Le Car (FRA) upset the competition as she took down six-time WSL Champion Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) in Round 2 Heat 3. The exciting match-up witnessed Le Car put early pressure on Gilmore with a 6.67 in her first CT event. Gilmore battled back with a 5.17, but Le Car’s backup score of a 4.17 kept her in the lead. Gilmore only needed a 5.68, but could not find the waves to combat Le Car and will exit with her worst result in 2017.
“I’m feeling super good and super grateful to be at this event, and just want to say thank you to Vans for this opportunity as a wildcard in the trials -- I’m so excited,” Le Car said. “Stephanie [Gilmore] is one of my favorite surfers and I watch her surf every time she’s on. She’s just really inspiring and love her surfing. I didn’t have any expectation and have nothing to lose so I’m just enjoying the opportunity, and just want to show a little bit of my surfing.”
Big moment for the French wildcard. Photo: WSL / Rowland
With current World No. 3 Gilmore out of the event, Tyler Wright (AUS), reigning WSL Champion and current World No. 1, will now have the opportunity to further her lead on the Jeep Leaderboard. Wright is in a great position to do so as she took the win in Round 1 Heat 3 to advance straight to non-elimination Round 3. With the WSL Title race in full swing, Wright will work to surpass last year’s 3rd place result in Huntington Beach.
“I wanted to make the most of that wave when it came through without completely safety-surfing it,” said Wright. “It was quite a fumble on my behalf. I probably went a bit too straight up into the lip when I could’ve just gone around so I adjusted that on my second wave for that 7. Last year at this event and Trestles, I spent a couple of months here, which set up my whole run through those events and continued into France and Portugal as well. Having that time where I could just focus on boards and surfing really set me up coming here again.”
Courtney Conlogue using her local knowledge. Photo: WSL / Rowland
Hometown hero Courtney Conlogue (USA) survived elimination Round 2 Heat 4 against injury replacement Bianca Buitendag (ZAF). Conlogue barely got the edge over Buitendag with just a 0.33-point lead. The Santa Ana local was disappointed with her 5th place result last year and is hungry for her first CT win in Huntington Beach.
“It’s amazing to be here with so many friends and family on the beach, and to perform in front of them is incredible,” Conlogue said. “Just to see all the fans who watch me on the webcast here and to compete on home soil is great. I definitely rolled the dice a bit letting her go on that last one thinking it was the first wave of the set and still twenty seconds left on the clock. After seeing her first hit and then fall I figured it’d be a low score so I’m stoked to make it through even though it wasn’t a great performance, a win’s a win and I’ll just keep trying to charge through.”
In her first heat win of 2017, Pauline Ado (FRA) dispatched 2016 Vans US Open Semifinalist Lakey Peterson (USA) in Round 2 Heat 5. Ado sat in the second position for the entire heat, but seized one last opportunity in the final seconds of the heat to play spoiler by only 0.17 points. Peterson will exit with a 13th place finish, her second this season.
Tatiana Weston (HAW) is off to a strong start to defend her Vans US Open of Surfing title after taking down Gilmore and Ado earlier today in Round 1 Heat 5. Weston-Webb delivered a stunning performance on her backhand for the opportunity to skip elimination Round 2.
Hawaii's Tatiana Weston-Webb. Photo: WSL / Morris
“I luckily found a right out there after I was only seeing those lefts and used that to my advantage,” Weston-Webb said. “I prepared for this one by surfing the Oceanside contest and that was good preparation because it’s also pier bowl rights and lefts. That one looked like it was going to stay open, and Steph [Gilmore] was definitely eyeing it, so I had to go and not let her smash that right. I went just to be smart. The US Open is one of my favorite events now that I’m a past champion and I dig the vibe a lot.”
Current World No. 2 Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) found her rhythm in the pumping Huntington Beach lineup today with a win in Round 1 Heat 4. Fitzgibbons gained an early lead with a 7.00 and fended off 2016 Rookie of the Year Keely Andrew (AUS) and Buitendag for the win.
“With the number of winners we’ve had -- and on any given day -- any of these surfers can take this event out,” said Fitzgibbons. “It creates a lot of excitement in me and even right to the buzzer you never know if you’ve got a heat won so you’re just on a hustle. I want to keep building my performance and bring out my best surfing.”
Three-time WSL Champion Moore bounced out of elimination Round 2 with her signature power-turns against 2017 CT rookie Bronte Macaulay (AUS). The CT superstar put on a clinic with progressive maneuvers to force the rookie to turn in two new scores. Macaulay was not able to meet the requirement and will be eliminated in Equal 13th place.
Silvana Lima kept the dream alive today. Photo: WSL / Morris
Lima eliminated Andrew from the event in first elimination heat of Round 2. Lima kept busy throughout the heat with eight attempted rides. Her persistence paid off as she received a 7.17 and 5.17 for her second CT heat win in 2017.
“All my confidence is coming from my win in Los Cabos for sure and I’m really happy to make it through this one,” Lima said. “Hopefully I can take it to the air in this one and hoping for more of the same conditions as today for our heat tomorrow. I’m just overjoyed with all the people here and want to give them a show, and I’m just happy to be back.”
Earlier today, Sage Erickson (USA) edged through her Round 1 heat against Conlogue and Macaulay to advance directly into non-elimination Round 3. In a rematch of the Supergirl Pro Final a few days before, Erickson was able to get one back over Conlogue, who took the win at that event. The Californian earned a fifth place finish last year at the Vans US Open, her best result at this event, and her win today keeps her on track to best that finish.
“That was kind of the perfect scenario,” said Erickson. “Courtney [Conlogue] is the hometown hero and absolutely smashed me with one maneuver down in Oceanside on Sunday so to get the upper nod, and get some solid waves under my feet felt really good. There’s so many options out there right now. It’s really peaky and just enabled me to be comfortable and confident that a good wave would come in so I just had to surf it to a good score.”
Nikki Van Dijk (AUS) looked in great form today with her win in Round 1 Heat 6 against Peterson and Laura Enever (AUS). Enever went on to battle Coco Ho (HAW) in Round 2, but after close back-and-forth exchanges, Ho took the win.