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US Open: Small-Wave Psych Up in Huntington Beach

"This is the smallest I've ever seen it here."

That was the perspective of defending Vans U.S. Open champ Kanoa Igarashi after breezing through his afternoon Round 2 heat in Huntington Beach Wednesday afternoon. For generosity's sake, let's call it knee-to-waist-high.

Kanoa Igarashi Goes Excellent Despite Small Conditions
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The former event champ earns an 8.00, advancing out of Round 2 at the Vans US Open in Huntington Beach.

"For me, my standards are so low. I grew up here and sort of know what to expect," continued Igarashi. "It's all about the mentality, just accepting it and knowing that everyone is in the same boat. Having that mindset paddling out can change everything. Waves will start to funnel towards you, and that's how I felt out there. There's no reason to be negative about the conditions because it's just what you're dealing with. Everyone's doing the same thing."

For the competitors, it would be very easy to look at the lineup and let the dark clouds cover up the blue sky. Most of the waves coming through only allowed for a quick turn or two. The best ones would find the inside sandbar and allow for a little more. But like Igarashi said, everyone's in the same boat dealing with the same conditions. And besides, nobody ever said winning the U.S. Open would be easy. That said, how does one get stoked and ready to compete when the surf is lacking in energy?

Patrick Gudauskas (USA) advances to Round 3 of the VANS US Open of Surfing after winning Heat 19 of Round 2 at Huntington Beach, CA, USA. 'That's the first heat I've won since Bells,' noted Patrick Gudauskas after coming from behind to win his Round 2 heat today. WSL / Sean Rowland

"This year's been a lot about keeping the fire in balance with being calm," said Patrick Gudauskas, who won his first heat today since making the Semifinals at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach earlier in the year. "I think when I see days like this the fire can get off the leash and you can bring as much energy as you can."

"There are a lot of long faces in the water, everyone's trying to find their motivation, and I feel like that's easy for me. I love surfing, period," continued Gudauskas. "It doesn't matter if it's one-foot or a hundred-foot, it's kind of the same ballpark. That's kind of where I think my headspace was for today."

Throughout the day it was the surfers that took a positive mindset that more often than not ended up with a positive result. Brazil's Alejo Muniz drew on the power of being a new dad to win his heat. South African Michael February was riding a wave of emotion as the new "Can't Steal Our Vibes" documentary premiered this week. The film details the surfboard drive he did with the Gudauskas brothers' Positive Vibe Warriors Foundation last year in which they delivered over 750 surfboards to kids throughout Africa.

Michael February (ZAF) is eliminated from the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast after placing second in Heat 7 of Round 3 at Snapper Rocks, Gold Coast, QLD, Australia. Michael February WSL / Kelly Cestari

Then there was Matt Banting. Sponsorless, he's back from injury and rapidly ascending the QS rankings. A result in Huntington could turn out to be his ticket back onto the CT.

"I've been pretty stressed out," said Banting. "Looking up the beach, there's not much to surf, so it's been hard to warm-up and build that confidence. That's what you normally do before an event. I'm just trying to stay strong minded and know that I've put in all the work previously. All I can do is give it my best shot."

The current surf forecast is calling for a small bump in size at this weekend, but for the next couple of days expect more of the same. That means it's not about who gets the best waves, but who can psych themselves up the most.

Matt Banting (AUS) advances to Round 3 of the VANS US Open of Surfing after winning Heat 18 of Round 2 at Huntington Beach, CA, USA. Matt Banting, currently 18th on the QS and hoping to keep climbing this week at the U.S. Open. WSL / Sean Rowland

"Negative thoughts are kind of like a cancer. It's the same as doubts. I think with eggy thoughts, or doubts, or fear, you try and use that as a switch to turn on," added Gudauskas. "That's probably my favorite part about competing in waves like this. It's a full mental challenge. Everyone's in the same dojo and you just have to put your mind into it. You can't control the waves, but you can control how you react to them."

The next call will be Thursday morning at 7:00am PDT.

You can watch the Vans US Open of Surfing live on CBS Sports Network (US only, check local schedule), the WSL website, the WSL app, and Facebook.

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