It was a massive day of competition at the Vans US Open of Surfing as the Men's Qualifying Series (QS) 10,000-level event narrowed their field to three-man heats, but among the heavy tension there was a bit of history for the sport of women's longboarding.
The first-ever Women's Duct Tape Invitational event in the Huntington Beach arena unfolded as lofty airs and quick, explosive surfing was traded for grace and poise from some of the world's best women longboarders. But, while it was all smiles and fun, a few names from the Longboard Championship Tour (LCT) took to the lineup and put on a showcase alongside up-and-coming talent that provided plenty of early upsets.
Most notably, 2016 WSL Longboard Champion Tory Gilkerson was eliminated in a wave-for-wave battle to start Semifinal action. Kaitlin Maguire got the best of Gilkerson in a great Quarterfinal start, and stole an advancing position from her once more in the heated Semifinal.
"That was so nerve-racking knowing Tory could drop a 9 or a 10 at any moment in these waves so I'm really excited to be going into the Final," Maguire said. "I'm so honored to be among these women who are amazing, graceful surfers. Just to be a part of this event that Joel Tudor and Vans put together for us to compete on this platform is unreal. It feels really good to be out here in the competitive vibe away from school now that I'm done and not be stressed, but just enjoy it and have fun."
But, it was Hawaii competitor Kelis Kaleopaa who earned both a big Quarterfinal and Semifinal victory, showing her grace through long nose-rides to the inside. Now, the Oahu, Hawaii, native looks poised for the first-ever Women's Duct Tape Invitational Final.
"That was so fun and this is an honor to be a part of the first ever event for the women," Kaleoppa said. "I wasn't sure what to expect. This is my first time here and I just surfed for the first time out here this morning so I don't know what good Huntington is, but that was fun. I didn't know this event was as big as I thought it was and it's crazy. It's good though because there's been a lot of heavy contest at home and to have all these girls here is incredible so I can't wait to surf again. If I win that'd be great, but we're all here to have a god time.
Fellow Oahu competitor, and reigning WSL Longboard Champion Honolua Blomfield displayed why she holds that title with brilliant form throughout the morning. Blomfield, 19, looked calm and prepared for the day's event, winning both her Quarterfinal and Semifinal heats. But, looks could be deceiving as the young surfer was amid some of her idols and did her best to stay focused on the task at hand.
"It's such a big deal to be a part of this, it's the best loggers in the world and women I've looked up to since I started surfing so I'm really happy to make the Final," Blomfield said. "I've never done one of these kind of contests, and it's the first one to be held here like this, which is really exciting. I was actually really nervous out there, because I've idolized them and to have them in a heat is really intimidating. Plus, just being a Duct Tape event, having Joel Tudor here, and all these women here -- to be invited to the biggest one is just awesome."
Joining the two Oahu natives, Maguire and former two-time World Champion Jennifer Smith make it a stacked Final affair. Smith's history in the sport goes deep, winning her World Titles in 2007 and 2009, but her love for surfing goes beyond competing as she now enjoys life following an amazing career.
"This event is huge and I got invited to the last one at Santa Cruz in 2011, but it's cool to have an all girls contest," Smith said. "When I had a teenager I always wished they had women's longboard in the US Open, but now that I work full-time as a chef and enjoy surfing more than ever it's come full circle now that I've put competition aside after years and years. It's really cool that we have this, especially for the younger girls because there's so many good single-fin riders now -- it's just great for them to have a venue and have fun. They've all stepped up in the last couple years which makes everyone surf better, and realize you can always progress."
The Women's Duct Tape Invitational Final will be held this weekend alongside all the action going down.