Hurricane Frank came roaring into the US Open of Surfing on Monday, Aug. 1, delivering massive, messy surf and challenging conditions as the women competitors took to the wild water on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier.
Waves were in the 6-to-8-foot range, a drastic change from the 2-4-footers that showed up over the weekend when the event kicked off. The hurricane swell is expected to last a few days before the waves drop later in the week and into the finals on Sunday, Aug. 7.
The third day of the event saw a mix of upsets of veterans who have competed at the event for more than a decade, and a rise among newcomers looking to climb the ranks; several of the standout competitors were local surfers who dominated through the day.
The biggest upset of the day came as Santa Ana’s Courtney Conlogue, a two-time winner of the event, was knocked out in the first round. The last time a big hurricane swell showed up for the event, in 2009, she won the event.
But this time, the ocean didn’t work in her favor.
She started her heat strong and in the lead, but as the clock ticked down she found herself in third spot and in need of just a 1.67 score to advance. But suddenly the ocean seemed to go flat next to the pier as she waited, with no waves showing for the veteran surfer as the buzzer sounded, a huge shocker as she was eliminated from the event.
Other local surfers, however, dominated through the day, starting with San Clemente’s Sawyer Lindblad, who won her first heat with a 12.66 after nabbing a 6.23 and 6.43. She would go on to also win her second heat later in the day.
Ventura’s Sage Erickson, one of the veteran World Tour surfers who grew up doing events here on the amateur circuit, won her early-morning heat with an 11.66 after nabbing a 6.13 and 5.53.
Erickson has claimed the title two times, first in 2017 and again in 2019. Last year, she tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the event.
“This year, I’m really excited to come and compete, the conditions are really challenging,” said Erickson, who also advanced in the afternoon heat to stay in the event. “So I just knew I had two waves and that’s all I got and it ended up being enough.
“It’s more or less about me and the ocean, rather than me and my competitors. I’m just looking forward to competing and being in the moment and enjoying competing. … I would love to have three titles.”
The hurricane swell – though challenging with a strong current and wild wind whipping – was a welcome visitor.
“It makes for a lot of paddling, but a lot of excitement,” the 31-year-old surfer said of the hurricane swell. “Being older now, I enjoy the experience rather than being afraid. I feel like that can be an advantage competitively.”
San Clemente’s Kirra Pinkerton, a 19-year-old who has been making waves in her young competitive career, was also thrilled at the ocean conditions. She wasted no time in her first heat, taking a quick 7.33 to clinch a high score just as the buzzer started her heat, backing it up with a 3.0 and keeping the lead the entire 30 minutes.
“I actually enjoy waves like this a lot more,” Pinkerton said early Monday. “Growing up in NSSA and doing a bunch of events here, it would get big like this. We would be like 11 years old and having to deal with this. I felt like it was a bit of an advantage just because I grew up having to do it.”
Her strategy was to stay away from the pier, where the wild waves were pushing competitors dangerously close to the barnacle-covered pilings.
In her afternoon heat, however, Pinkerton couldn’t find the waves she needed to advance and was knocked out of the event.
World Tour surfer Coco Ho, a 31 year old who has surfed the event since she was 14, was glad to make it through the round of 64 heat early morning.
“This event is so special, that’s why the veterans stay for so long. It’s why the newcomers travel here and want to be in the mix. I think the pier element, it’s the most stadium-like event we have in all of the world,” she said. “That’s really special to me. A lot of history here.”
But her run would come to an end by the afternoon, as she couldn’t put scores on the board to advance during a heat with last year’s winner Caitlin Simmers, of Oceanside.
Simmers started the day strong with a 6.73 and 6.0 for a two-score total of 12.73.
“It was pretty tiring,” she said, joking that she doesn’t work out, but maybe should. “It’s really, really tough out there.”
But she battled through and again came out the victor during her second heat of the day, taking the top spot to move on to the round of 16 when the women’s event resumes.
The Vans US Open of Surfing is the fourth of seven-stop on the World Surf League’s Challenger Series, where valuable points are up for grabs for surfers to qualify on the World Tour to compete at the elite level, as well as $20,000 first-place prize.
The men’s action got underway over the weekend, and is expected to resume Tuesday, with several local standout surfers dominating to advance to the next round.
Long Beach’s Nolan Rapoza, who made the semifinals last year, earned a buzzer-beater win to make it into the next round.
San Clemente’s Kolohe Andino, Kei Kobayashi, Crosby Colapinto and Cole Houshmand, along with Huntington Beach local and two-time US Open of Surfing winner Kanoa Igarashi, will continue to compete when the men’s action resumes on Tuesday.
For full results, go to: worldsurfleague.com