Thursday morning in Huntington Beach was a tough playing field for the world's best, with small surf demanding both patience and the ability to pounce at every opportunity. But something about that mix opened the door for Round Four's underdogs, with the heavyweights going down, one by one.
It all started with Sage Erickson, who has been flying under the radar for most of this year. Sage came into this event very much on the bubble. She's No. 11 on the Championship Tour rankings (No. 10 is the cutoff for requalifying) and No. 12 on the Qualifying Series (where the top six women make the tour, barring double-qualification), so she needs some success, and fast.
Unfortunately she was facing Sally Fitzgibbons in Round Four, and Sally is about as dangerous as they come in tiny Huntington surf. Not many odds makers would've given Sage a chance. But Sage showed up to play...and on a morning that required smart decisions and smart surfing, she handled the pressure with poise.
"That was one of the closest heats I've ever had," Erickson said afterward. "Sally is a champion here and made the final almost every year so I knew it was going to be hard. I'm super excited to surf against Lakey (Peterson) in the next round. I know she's probably really hungry so I'm going to have to make good decisions and surf well."
Sage's win wasn't the only high-five for the underdogs. Before Round Four was over, rookie Keely Andrew had taken down World No. 3 Carissa Moore. Their heat was a slow-burning nail-biter, in which Keely's score of 6.50 was the high score. But the rookie, whose first season has been a straight run of ninth- and thirteenth-place finishes, is suddenly coming in to her own.
"Just having the opportunity to surf against Carissa is insane because she has always been one of my influences growing up," said Andrew. "It is small and it's kind of weak out there, so similar to back home on the Sunshine Coast. My game plan was to stay patient and be on the best waves, and it worked out."
Round Four ushered two more surfers out of the contest: Laura Enever lost to Tatiana Weston-Webb, while Malia Manuel took down fellow Hawaiian Coco Ho. None of the four women are having standout seasons, but all are in pretty good shape to keep their jobs in 2017. For Weston-Webb and Manuel, making the Quarters should be good confidence-boosters for the second half of the year.