As we approach the midpoint of the event, notable QS and CT threats have bowed out of competition including Bianca Buitendag, Johanne Defay, Kirra Pinkerton and Vahine Fierro. With the recent event upgrade to a QS 10,000, the stakes are higher than ever for the women's side of the draw.
The pressure has mounted for Courtney Conlogue and Sage Erickson, who are eager to earn their second victories so close to home. On the other hand, the ever so dangerous Bronte Macaulay could clinch her first Vans US Open victory, while taking home the largest QS trophy to date.
Bronte Macaulay came out firing on all cylinders once again in Round 3. The Margaret River, Australia, native honed her home break's power into her performance and dropped an immaculate 17.10 (out of a possible 20) after building her scoreline from start to finish -- finishing with an 8.83 (out of a possible 10) and 8.17. Macaulay isn't getting ahead of herself knowing the caliber of competition at hand, but came in from the water beaming to her support crew.
"I feel like I'm in a really good place and just enjoying California," Macaulay said. "There was just those really good right, rip bowls by the pier I was able to find so felt pretty lucky. It's great to have my dad here, he's the biggest surf frother and even when it's small he comes in just so psyched on how fun it was. I'll look at conditions and maybe not be too stoked but then he's really excited to get out so I'll have to go at that point (laughs)."
Defending event winner Conlogue stayed on pace with another clutch heat win over potential threats Alyssa Spencer, also advancing, and Tia Blanco after starting with an early lead that she maintained until the final horn. Spencer's 7.33 start challenged Conlogue, but the newest addition to the Huntington Beach Surf Walk of Fame held her composure before going directly to the induction ceremony.
"I just love that hometown encouragement and have everyone on the beach -- it's only 8am and the crowd's just alive," Conlogue said . "We're just having fun. This week's all about embracing everything that's coming my way and just enjoying all that hard work I've put in. "
"I feel so honored that the Surfing Walk of Fame is recognizing me for my achievements so early in my career and I know I have a lot more to give," Conlogue added. "The induction was an amazing experience with fans all around me and Swatch had made face signs of me which was really cool (laughs). Today was a really memorable one and not forgetting that anytime soon."
Fellow former Vans US Open victor, and the only competitor to win both the women's QS and Pro Junior, Erickson found her rhythm in Round 3 and dropped an excellent 8.33 to solidify a spot into Round 4. Erickson's years has been filled with highs and lows, claiming 3,000 points in Australia to start the year and also losing first heat in Oceanside last weekend, but finds herself in a great position to reclaim a big result and make a charge toward re-qualification.
"The year I won I had to beat Courtney twice, Carissa, and then Tatiana in the Final and to be a champion you have to beat the best girls," Erickson said. "Often times if you don't, you're not winning the event. But, I'm just happy to be catching waves and having fun competing. I've got a really fun crew here and each day is anew so I'm just enjoying them as they come."
With Round 4 coming up next, we can't write off Stephanie Gilmore (7x World Champion), Tatiana Weston-Webb (2015 Vans US Open Champion), and Isabella Nichols (current QS Leader), who all pose a serious threat in the latter half of the event window. With swell improving and the stakes as high as ever, the first women's QS 10,000 is guarenteed to make history in Huntington Beach.
The women will be OFF tomorrow, Friday, August 2 and will have their next call for Saturday, August 3.