On a hot, sunny Saturday in Huntington Beach, as the Vans US Open of Surfing - Men's QS powered through Round 5, Seth Moniz brought the crowd to their feet with what could turn out to be the best air of the year.
Stroking into a chunky reform, he drove down the line on his backhand and threw up the ultimate Hail Mary. An inverted, corked out rotation, he landed flat on his back in the whitewater before somehow finding his footing and riding out of it.
"That was the craziest wave I've ever had in a heat," said Moniz after being mobbed on the beach. "I was actually going to go for a throw-tail but kind of mistimed it. I kicked my board out a little too hard and thought I lost it when it separated from my feet. As I was coming down I just laid flat and then I felt my board grip. Sometimes when you land flat-backed like that the whitewash pushes you back up and that's pretty much how it happened."
Garnering an event high 9.87 wave score, not only was it a confidence and momentum booster for Moniz, it also carried him to victory over a surging Evan Geiselman. Into the Quarterfinals, Moniz is now within striking distance of qualifying for the 2019 Championship Tour.
"It's a crazy feeling because in the last three events I've had some of the best performances of my career," continued Moniz. "I probably made more heats in the last two events than I did all of last year. I'm just trying to take this momentum forward for the rest of the year and push through. That was a huge heat for me, points wise. My goal coming here was that I wanted to get 3,000 points, and now that I'm in the Quarters I'm just going to do what I can to make the Final. That would really seal the deal."
Unfortunately, it wasn't all blazing performances. After kicking out of a wave World No. 4 Italo Ferreira grabbed the back of his left leg and grimaced. Carried out of the water and up the beach by WSL medical personnel, the initial assessment was that he'd sustained a hamstring injury. He was taken from the U.S. Open contest site to Newport Beach-based Dr. Warren Kramer, who's worked on countless surfers over the years and will further assess his condition. We will continue to provide updated information on Ferreira's condition as it becomes available.
"After that one wave I felt a lot of pain," Italo said on his injury. "I tried to stretch the back muscle of my right leg and it was really hard. I thought it was best to just wait until the end of the heat. The doctors said it's not too serious and I'm hoping to be better tomorrow."
There's no shortage of talent focusing on the Final. A pair of San Clemente surfers, Kolohe Andino and Griffin Colapinto, both advanced out of Round 5 and will now meet in the first Quarterfinal tomorrow.
"This is probably the wave that we've surfed the most contests at, so we both feel comfortable and that's why we've been doing well," said Griffin, anticipating the upcoming heat with his good friend. "Living 30 minutes away, you get to do your normal routine at home on the lay days, so that's huge."
As the round wound to a close it was local hero and defending Open champ Kanoa Igarashi's turn to get in on the action. Putting in a smooth, methodical performance, he cruised to a win over Michael February. He was clear in his post-heat interview that he still had gas in the tanks and hadn't done his best surfing yet. He was also clear about his intentions.
"Ever since I won last year all I've been able to think about was how nice it would feel to go back-to-back," said Igarashi, who's trying to be the next Huntington surfer to win the Open two years in a row since Brett Simpson in 2009 and 2010. "That's all I'm going for and that's all I really care about at this point."
As far as who he'd like to face-off against in the Final, he would prefer to keep it an Orange County affair.
"I'd love to have somebody like Kolohe or Griffin in the Final if I make it," added Igarashi. "I feel like those guys surf well out here and I'd love to go blow for blow with them. I know this wave super well and they do too, so it would be cool to go up against someone that knows the lineup like I do. An O.C. Final would be great."
The next call will be Sunday 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.