Every winner of the Vans US Open of Surfing is a survivor. They've seen and survived the many faces of the Huntington Beach pier -- a week's worth of against-the-grain rights, speedy left walls, sheet glass, extreme heat and damp fog. The winner sees it all. Not to mention facing a steady stream of the best 100-odd competitive surfers from across the globe.
And it helps to know the lineup...
On Finals day, after a week of pumping surf, the waves deteriorated, setting the stage for tactics and strategy to come to the forefront. And did they ever for the new Vans US Open of Surfing - Men's QS Champion and Huntington Beach native Kanoa Igarashi, who survived another contentious priority interference encounter with Filipe Toledo in the Semifinals (more on that later).
"It's about time!," yelped Igarashi after his stunning victory. "It's crazy how much this win means to me," he added, "it's the biggest win of my life!"
In the Final against Tomas Hermes, it took until the 22-minute mark for Igarashi to pick off his first wave. But he opened in style -- scoring a 9.63. It was a helluva time to post the highest single-wave score of the entire event. Igarashi never looked back, even strengthening his lead late in the heat to run away with a convincing win. It was a fitting ending for a surfer whose family moved to Huntington Beach specifically to help propel his chances at becoming a pro.
For Hermes, his appearance in the Final was an amazing test of skill and fortitude. He arrived in the Final as the most in-form surfer still in the draw. There were times on Finals day when the rabbit-quick Brazilian appeared to be whipped into waves, speeding over the gutter section like he had a 50-horsepower prop engine attached between his fins.
And yet, back in Round Three, Hermes was fewer than 10 minutes away from losing when he summoned all of his collective competitive wisdom, along with a tiny prayer to the wave gods, for just one more chance to progress. He found it and put up an 8.50 on the score sheet. That one wave turned the entire course of his week.
The Brazilian's talent has never been in doubt, and he's been a perennial member of the CT-bubble club for the past three years, situated in the mid-teens of the QS rankings heading to the North Shore, only to see qualification slip through his fingers like the crunchy coral sands at Pipe.
In 2016, Hermes was once again well positioned to make a run at the CT, only to sustain a foot injury halfway through the season. Far from defeated, he turned his injury into something positive. "I feel like I really appreciate the injury to my foot last year because when you have to stop your life, you think about it," he said. "Something different has happened to me, it was bad, but not really. It helped me come in here with a different mindset and made me a better person."
Earlier, in the Semifinals, Igarashi and Toledo were engaged in a repeat performance of their tussle at the Oi Rio Pro. The pair got tangled up in a battle for the peak, a nearly identical circumstance as that in Brazil. Although at the Oi Rio Pro, Toledo engaged the judges after his heat and was suspended, and had to miss the Fiji contest.
"That was the worst start to a heat. It was such a bummer for both of us because when that happens it's hard for the person who didn't get the interference, too, because all of a sudden your game plans change," said Igarashi. "You start thinking about so many different things and start figuring out what you want to do, it's unsettling."
Yet in the end, it was a storybook ending here for Igarashi, who fulfilled a life-long dream as well as sealing the fate of a path set in motion nearly two decades ago.
For the remaining surfers on the QS Tour, the US Open also marks the point in the season when everyone is re-seeded based on where they now stand, rather than the 2016 season ending rankings. Up next, the European leg takes center stage, with the all-important QS10,000 Cascais Pro in Portugal looming as the last big opportunity to make a move before the final two events on the North Shore this winter.
Vans US Open of Surfing Men's QS10,000 Final Results:
1 - Kanoa Igarashi (USA) 17.23
2 - Tomas Hermes (BRA) 11.10
Vans US Open of Surfing Men's QS10,000 Semifinal Results:
SF 1: Kanoa Igarashi (USA) 12.26 def. Filipe Toledo (BRA) 11.92
SF 2: Tomas Hermes (BRA) 11.84 def. Carlos Munoz (CRI) 10.70
Vans US Open of Surfing Men's QS10,000 Quarterfinal Results:
QF 1: Kanoa Igarashi (USA) 13.30 def. Ricardo Christie (NZL) 11.83.
QF 2: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 13.43 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 12.10
QF 3: Carlos Munoz (CRI) 10.06 def. Michael February (ZAF) 5.17
QF 4: Tomas Hermes (BRA) 12.47 def. Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 12.40
2017 WSL Men's Qualifying Series Rankings:
1 - Jesse Mendes (BRA) 22,700
2 - Michael February (ZAF) 14,750
3 - Kanoa Igarashi (USA) 13,310
4 - Tomas Hermes (BRA) 13,010
5 - Griffin Colapinto (USA) 12,380