At first glance, the scene today at the Vans US Open of Surfing appeared downright respectable. On the beach, it was a mellow, midweek crowd -- a few hiked-up bikini bottoms here, a couple of joggers in Borat-style, American flag-printed onesies there. Which is to say, your average day in Surf City.
But that orderly tableau belied the outright -- if not understated -- bloodbath in Rounds Three and Four, on a day that would make Rocky Balboa proud. The swell had filled in, but the waves were challenging, closeouts and against-the-grain reforms were the order of the day. Happily for the women who broke through, though, belief in themselves and intelligent, focused surfing won out. Not to mention, legs of steel. The infamous Huntington Hop was the maneuver du jour, often making the difference between advancement and elimination.
Coco Ho was the first breakout star of the day. In Round Three, she was up against two former event winners, Tatiana Weston-Webb and Tyler Wright, the latter of whom also happens to be the reigning World Champion. And while both of those women were formidable opponents (both went on to win their respective Round Four heats), Ho dispensed her signature lip-cracks, smacked inside sections, and stuck to a smart game plan.
It can't be easy being part of the Ho dynasty. Coco hails from a line of pro surfers that includes her uncle, former World Champion Derek, and her father, Championship Tour legend Michael. Then there's her ever-entertaining brother, Mason, who has made a name for himself with exceptional tube skills and, shall we say, a distinct sense of humor. But today belonged to Coco, and deservedly so. While her talent has never been in question, her competitive prowess has often kept her under the radar on the rankings. This morning, however, her confidence carried her through.
"I didn't really think about the accolades [for the women] in the water around me, everyone rips and everyone knows each other's strengths, but they're all really smart," Ho said afterward. "We were all carrying 4s, which are the sketchiest heats, but I'm stoked to get the one that separated it. I've had a lot of support my whole career and I think it was the ones closest to me, like my uncle, making me aware of my potential. He drove up from San Clemente at 5 a.m. with my backup board that I ended up riding in my heat."
Mindset, once again, made the difference for Californian Sage Erickson. Erickson, like Ho, has had flashes of brilliance, but never breakout success on Tour. In contrast to Ho, however, Erickson fell off Tour in 2014, yet has returned to the CT with a steely resolve that seems to be fighting for more screen time. In Round Four, that slow, steady progress paid off when she defeated Carissa Moore. Like Ho's set of heavyweights in Round Three, Erickson had her work cut out for her. Moore, too, has won the US Open before, and has three World Title trophies on her mantle.
And yet, when the horn went off at the start of their heat, none of that seemed to matter. "There were a few moments of nerves, but I feel really confident in my surfing," Erickson said. "Coming up against Carissa...I knew that it was going to be a task. I've gone through so many seasons of what I've been focusing on, there's so many elements in this sport and I think every athlete can relate to that. But, really just trusting in my dream and my goal to be on this Tour and to stay on -- I never wanted to come to this level and just be a survivor, but to challenge the top and be in that position."
Amid the massive coups, there were a few other personal bests today, as well. Pauline Ado, who had yet to win a heat all season, continued with her turnaround, making it to the Quarterfinals. At the other end of the Jeep Leaderboard was Sally Fitzgibbons, always a World No. 2, but never a World Title winner. She sailed to the Quarters, too, raising the stakes in the 2017 Championship race, where she has quietly crept up on Wright's top spot.
Catch the final eight tomorrow after Men's Round Two wraps up on the WSL website and app starting at 7:30 a.m. PDT.