By now, the carnival-like scene that unfolds each year at the Vans US Open of Surfing has, deservedly, reached mythic proportions. The annual multi-tier, multi-sport event conjures images of tanned, shiny bodies churning in throngs across long swaths of beach, packs of teens in negligible clothing roaming from one vendor to the next, and hundreds of bathing suit-clad fans jammed together hip-to-hip on the sand to watch the heats unfold.
Tuesday morning, however, it was the action in the water that packed a punch in Huntington Beach. Starting with the first heat of the day -- and the first of the women's CT contest -- Johanne Defay surged ahead of her opponents, Carissa Moore and Silvana Lima, with an 8-point ride and followed up with a 9-pointer. Not only did she throw down the gauntlet at a break where she's won before (in 2015, she earned her first CT victory here), but she also set the bar for points and performance, with the highest total heat score of the day.
For Defay, who is sitting at World No. 5, a strong result here in Huntington Beach could put her squarely in the World Title conversation. With an opening performance like this morning's, it's not a bad bet.
While the Frenchwoman's surfing injected some early excitement into the event, it was the battles in Round Two where the results sent real shock waves through the rankings. Round Two, of course, is where the rubber meets the surfing road, and eliminations began with some big upsets. First among them was six-time World Champion Stephanie Gilmore, who fell to Qualifying Series (QS) surfer Maud Le Car. Le Car, who has been a household name among surf fans in her native France for years, gained a whole new level of name-recognition when she eliminated Gilmore. The Frenchwoman is surfing here as a wildcard -- a role in which she has nothing to lose but everything to prove.
Next on the fast-moving train of upsets was former event winner and perennial contest favorite Lakey Peterson at the hands of French underdog Pauline Ado. Despite talent that has taken her to the CT for the second time in her career, Ado had yet to win a heat this year -- that is, until today. Not only was her heat win a shimmer of light for the upbeat Tour vet, but it carried greater weight given that her opponent arrived here ranked World No. 7, and no doubt with an arsenal of fins-free hacks and above-the-lip floats that will go undeployed.
Lastly, one of the day's notable mini-triumphs belonged to Lima. Like Ado, she's a returnee to the elite Tour, for an impressive third time. In her Round Two heat, she faced off against Tour sophomore Keely Andrew, who has also had her fair share of ups and downs in terms of results. In fact, Andrew was leading for much of their do-or-die battle, and it looked like Lima would again suffer an early loss -- so far this year, she has won just one CT heat. But the Brazilian, who may as well have perseverance as a middle name, pulled off the win, at one point navigating the pier pylons to complete her wave.
Lima was drafting off of her biggest success of the year. In June, she won the high-ranked Los Cabos Qualifying Series contest, which put her in good standing on the QS rankings. "All my confidence is coming from my win in Los Cabos," she 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 happy to be back."
Catch Lima, Le Car, Ado, Defay and the rest of the remaining Top 17 when Round Three kicks off tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. PDT.