The 2019 women's event marked a historic milestone for the QS with the first-ever QS 10,000 in the WSL era and equal prize money at the Vans US Open. Sage Erickson claimed the all-California Final over defending event winner Courtney Conlogue in incredible fashion with one of the day's best performances -- a 15.43 heat total.
Erickson celebrated an incredibly emotional win after losing her grandmother just weeks before this event began and was beside herself during the presentation. "I shed a lot of tears when I came in from the water and I just want to say this is dedicated to my grandma who passed two weeks ago," Erickson said.
Erickson had to deal with an all-star cast to get to the Final that truly showed the importance of this event with the competitors involved -- defeating Malia Manuel and former Vans US Open winner Tatiana Weston-Webb along the way.
This victory was especially important for Erickson's goal of requalification for the 2020 CT. After a strong start followed by unfavorable results on the QS, Sage jumped up 23 spots to No. 2 on the QS rankings, keeping her Championship Tour dreams within reach.
"To be home in California, have a heat against Courtney and to be 10,000 -- it's more than just points," Erickson added. "It's equal pay, it's a prime, it's a lot for us women and a big shout out to Jessi (Miley-Dyer) for believing in our sport and to Sophie (Goldschmidt) leading the WSL as a strong woman."
The women's all-American Final had the crowd roaring for hometown hero Conlogue with every turn as she hoped to claim an unprecedented back-to-back title. But, it wasn't meant to be with Erickson in dominating form throughout finals day that forced Conlogue into attempting hail mary airs toward the end of the heat.
Though a runner-up was disappointing for the Santa Ana, California, native, her explosive air-reverse in Quarterfinal Heat 1 against phenom Caroline Marks started the day off in amazing fashion that carried through to the end and the recent Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame inductee can carry this momentum forward.
"This week has been incredible and anytime I have the chance to perform in front of my hometown it's just very special," Conlogue said. "I'm really happy for Sage, it was really well-deserved and a fun Final. Thanks so much to everyone who came down to cheer us on."
On the men's side of the draw, the high-flying antics of Dora came firing right out of the gates on Finals day with one of the top single-scoring waves the event, a 9.27, after soaring through the air and landing it smoothly. Dora followed with an excellent 8.60 on yet another massive air-reverse before shooting through the pier, and sealing his first-ever QS 10,000 victory.
"It feels so incredible right now and I just want to thank everyone who showed up today -- it's just amazing to surf in front of a huge crowd," Dora said. "It gets me fired up to do my best and that's what I did today. I gave everything I had and it worked out for me. I just want to congratulate all the finalists and especially Liam, he's been surfing amazing."
This win skyrockets Dora 46 spots to No. 4 on the QS ranks and in a position to secure his CT spot for 2020 heading into a vital back-half of 2019. The 23-year-old decimated California's hopes of retaining the Vans US Open title after dismantling now QS No. 1 Jorgann Couzinet in the Semifinals and surviving a scare from former CT competitor Alex Ribeiro in the Quarterfinals. Now, the Brazilian sets his eyes on Tahiti for one of the CT's most sought-after events.
"We had waves for nine days which is amazing for Huntington (laughs)," Dora added. "I came out of my house with a goal to win this event and I did it. I can't even explain how happy I am right now."
The Vans US Open can provide a platform for surfers to make their names known and Burleigh Heads, Australia's, Liam O'Brien did just that with a series of jaw-dropping performances. O'Brien helped eliminate event favorite, hometown hero, and back-to-back defending event winner, Kanoa Igarashi. He defeated Jack Freestone just two days prior before taking down Barron Mamiya in the Quarterfinals and California's last hope Griffin Colapinto in the Semifinals.
O'Brien will now look to finish the season off competing in the QS 10,000s and currently finds himself in a qualification position.
"I'm ecstatic and it still feels so surreal to be standing here, I don't even feel like I'm supposed to be to be honest (laughs)," O'Brien said. "I'm so thankful for this opportunity and to come as far as I did and can't say thank you enough for everyone coming down. To make it through some of the heats I did, I can't believe it. I'll keep working to improve my surfing as much as I can and to be into the QS 10,000s heading is such an amazing feeling so I'm just really grateful."