Amid small waves and a massive crowd on the beach, Johanne Defay (FRA) swept the field and won the Championship Tour (CT) Vans US Open of Surfing. In the men's Qualifying Series (QS) contest, Hiroto Ohhara (JPN) was the king of the beachbreak, bringing a mix of hacks, airs and small-wave maneuvers. With his win, he earns the best competitive result ever from a Japanese surfer.
Defay's win was her first-ever on the elite Championship Tour, and comes during a sophomore season in which she has been steadily climbing up the Jeep rankings. She defeated CT veteran Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) in a tense Final at Huntington Beach Pier. The win earns her 10,000 points and a boost up the Jeep Leaderboard.
"I don't think I can put it into words," she said. "It's very hard to digest and I don't know how to say how I feel -- it's so crazy. I'm very happy to have some of my friends here and I'm thinking of the people back home too. I guess it's all the work I've done before and it's all come together."
Key to her win was an early jump on the action, in which she earned a heat-high score of 7.67 for a series of backhand snaps. That opening performance gave her the lead and put pressure on Fitzgibbons, who was left looking for a 5.52. Fitzgibbons found a comeback wave with just five minutes left, showcasing a flat reverse and taking it through the reform for 7.00 and the lead. With the tension mounting and the seconds ticking down, Defay answered with two big turns for 5.87. The score put her back in the lead, and earned her the win.
"It was tricky at the start but then I got that score which put me in a better position," she said. "Last year everything was so new and this year I feel way more comfortable."
Defay's triumph, however, came at a cost. On her way to the Final, she faced her close friend, South African Bianca Buitendag, in a rematch of their Semifinal in Fiji, in which Buitendag out-scored her friend.
This time around was a different story. After a neck-and-neck heat, Defay won by the narrowest of margins, 0.01, to earn her first ever CT Final appearance.
The next Semi was a battle of Tour titans, hometown hero Courtney Conlogue (USA) vs. Aussie powerhouse Sally Fitzgibbons. Conlogue had a slow start, and was scoreless at the halfway point. Fitzgibbons, meanwhile, was running away with the lead, and threw a no-grab flat reverse for good measure before defeating the Californian. Despite Conlogue's loss, she became World No. 1, which means she'll wear the Jeep leader's yellow jersey at the CT Trestles Women's Pro.
Among the men, Ohhara earned the biggest result of his career after defeating Tanner Hendrickson (HAW) in a hard-fought Final. The 10,000 points Ohhara earned catapults him up the QS rankings, from No. 81 to No. 13, putting him within reach of qualifying for the elite CT in 2016.
"I don't know how to say it, I'm just so stoked," said Ohhara. "It feels like something very special today. Now I think I'm really looking forward to the rest of the year. I've learned everything here and I got a good result here."
Ohhara became the first Japanese surfer to make the Final at the Vans US Open of Surfing after defeating local favorite Kanoa Igarashi (USA) in the opening Semifinal.
It was Hendrickson, however, who sent shockwaves through the stands in his Semifinal, when he ousted defending event winner and CT standout Filipe Toledo (BRA). The unsponsored underdog needed a 5.03 to overtake Toledo, and with eight minutes remaining went for big powerful snaps, earning a 6.07 to force a lead change and leave Toledo looking to score 7.08. With just under two minutes left, the Brazilian phenom, who's known as a small-wave expert, took a wave but fell on his final maneuver and didn't get the score, leaving the competition in third place.
The next CT event for Toledo will be the Billabong Pro Tahiti. Ohhara will have a shot in the CT field in September at Lower Trestles where he will be competing as a wildcard after winning the Hurley Trials just a week before competing in Huntington.