The Vans US Open of Surfing is a stage from which some of the sport's greatest icons have launched their careers. It was here that a Mark "Occy" Occhilupo ignited his epic rivalry with Californian icon Tom Curren in the mid-80s. In 1998 a young Andy Irons first brought a generation-defining aggression to the Southside of the pier. More recently Filipe Toledo changed the fast twitch game with his win in 2014. It is a competition where rare talent is fast tracked. But who in 2018 is ready to hurl themselves forward into bright future or cement themselves as a Huntington hero? Here's five surfers who are primed for a great leap forward.
Seth Moniz has been given a wildcard based on an incredible six months of electric surfing. The 20-year-old Hawaiian has made the biggest leap of any surfer on the QS rankings, jumping from 87 at the end of 2017 to his current runner-up spot. Away from the competition zone his backflip at the Waco wavepool scorched the internet when it dropped in May and revealed his ever expanding technical ability and progressive chops. In form and on fire, Moniz is ready to wreak damage on the biggest stage.
Character traits like quirky, polite, funny, positive and happy-go-lucky tend to be used by those closest to Griffin Colapinto when describing the CT rookie. Jake Paterson, his coach, however calls him the Sponge due to his ability to retain almost all the competitive strategies and best practice information that is thrown at him. This mix of youth, exuberance, talent and hard work has seen the San Clemente local take his first CT year by storm and elevate him to World No. 10 on the Jeep Leaderboard. Yet for all the incredible success, Colapinto is yet to chalk up a senior professional event win. This year at the Vans US Open of Surfing that could all change.
The Brazilian goofyfooter entered his rookie CT year in a blaze of well deserved hype. The 22-year-old's performances as a CT wildcard at the Oi Rio Pro, where he finished runner-up, plus two wins on the QS in 2017 had him marked as one of the best of the exciting crop of next-gen Brazilians. However he has had a tough year on the CT so far except for a Quarterfinal finish at home. The US Open therefore comes at a critical time for Dora. He desperately needs a QS result to take some heat off his CT results. Luckily few in the field can match his mix of explosive power and aerial wizardry. It could be at Huntington that Dora reasserts himself as a surfing force.
Brett Simpson isn't the only previous event champion in this year's field, but he's the only one that, as of August 3, will be a member of the Huntington Surfers' Hall of Fame. The Huntington High School graduate cemented his legendary status with back-to-back victories in 2009 and 2010. Now adding a third title might be asking a little much of the semi-retired Simpson, but the father-of-two is in the event on merit based on his QS seed and no one knows the shifting banks around the pier better than him. If the greatest of upsets does occur and Simpson joins Tom Curren as the only three-time winner, it might be one of the most memorable victories of all.
After spending nine months out of the water with a severe hip flexor injury in 2017, Matt Banting seriously questioned not just his competitive future, but whether he would ever surf again. Eventually however Banting overcame the injury and with a Semifinal the Australian Open of Surfing in February proved that he can operate at surfing's highest level. Six months later the 2014 QS Winner is still injury free and his technical rail game, dynamic aerial attack and self-belief are at all time highs. Banting warmed up for the US Open with three days training at the Surf Ranch and the reports (and the footage) suggest he looked razor sharp. Beachbreaks are also his real strength and so Huntington then provides another opportunity to reclaim his incredible potential that was stalled by injury. Banting is back and he could go all the way.
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.