Kelly Slater Wins Nike US Open of Surfing!
Pumping South Swells Greets Competitors for Final Days of Event
Sunday, August 7th – Record crowds were stoked to see the world’s best surfers compete in great waves generated by both Hurricane Eugene off the coast of Baja California, and a solid Southern Hemi groundswell from New Zealand. The remaining rounds of the event featured the men, women, and juniors showcasing the most progressive surfing ever seen in competition as over 100,000 people cheered from the beach.
With all the other activities that were going on, it was easy to get distracted from the actual surf contest itself. There was the Converse Coastal Carnage skate contest in a dreamy blue bowl, the Nike 6.0 BMX contest in an X-Games quality street course, the afternoon concerts with The Sounds, MGMT, Surfer Blood (the best), and Jimmy Eat World, the Hurley Walk the Walk fashion contest, and all the brand tents throughout the main “street” of the contest area. These happenings kept most of the enormous crowd busy for the entirety of the event.
The rest of us were watching the sick ASP Men’s Prime event going down in consistent head high waves, with overhead sets popping up every 1o minutes. The best 96 surfers in the world slugged it out throughout the event for a chance at the $100,000 first place check and a spot in competitive surfing history. No matter how huge the hype was for this year’s Open, the guys produced in a big way. I have never seen so many career-best performances in my life. Maybe is was because of the crowd. Maybe because of the money. Maybe because of all the girls on the beach. Maybe all of the above. Whatever it was, the final rounds of the contest were futuristic displays of progressive surfing at its finest.
By the time the quarter final heats came around on Sunday morning’s low tide, the waves were barreling on the outside sandbar, and then reforming for a few quick maneuvers before a closeout bash in the shorebreak.
Up first was OC local Tanner Gudauskas vs. Hawaiian Dusty Payne. Dusty had been arguably the strongest surfer throughout the event at that point, and many were predicting a win by the young Maui ripper. He took down Tanner with precise, tail-drifting snaps and powerful carves in the pocket.
Quarter final Heat #2 saw the best match-up of the event. Kelly Slater vs. Taj Burrow. And what a heat it was. Both surfers were surfing to the limit of their abilities in the punchy beachbreak. The thing is, these two surf-stars “abilities” are superhuman in the performance oriented surf that was on offer. Taj opened up with a huge 360 air reverse, but it was his only outside move on that wave. Kelly followed with a good left that let him get two outside maneuvers, a vertical snap, and a heavy closeout snap across the lipline. Slater then dropped into a dredging barrel, came out clean, and did two moves on the outside. Taj came right back with a vicious layback tail-blow that saw his fins slide all the way down the face before he recovered. Unfortunately for Taj, he fell on the basic snap following the first heavy maneuver. When he only received a 6.16, he raised his hands in disgust at the judges and slapped the water. It was done. Slater advanced to the semis.
Heat #3 of the quarter finals was another stellar match-up. Hipster Dane Reynolds vs. competitive warrior Kolohe Andino. The waves were not cooperative as not a single set with the quality of Kelly/Taj’s heat came through for the entire 30 minute heat. Dane did a good 360 Slob air and was in the lead. Then, in the dying minutes of the heat, Kolohe got a larger wave and busted a huge blow-tail maneuver that saw him land backwards in the flats. He recovered and connected to the inside bar and cracked a 360 reverse in the closeout shorebreak to take the heat away from Dane. Very impressive composure from a 17 year-old against the most progressive surfer on the planet.
The last heat of the quarter finals saw an in-form Yadin Nicol go up against South African Royden Bryson. Royden surfed well, pulling a nice tail-drift on a good left wall, but lacked a good back-up wave. Yadin punted a huge frontside air on his first wave, and followed it up with two backside snaps on the biggest left of the heat. He took the win and advanced to the semis.
So, the semi finals were set with Dusty Payne vs. Kelly Slater, and Kolohe Andino vs. Yadin Nicol. Each of these competitors were flaring up the entire event, so everyone knew they were in for a treat.
Semi heat #1 started off with a bang as Dusty popped a nice 360 air and followed it up with a closeout snap on the inside. Slater followed that with a little bit higher 360 air that saw Kelly fully rotate in the air before landing for a higher score than Dusty’s. Then Dusty dealt the next blow with a sick backside blow-tail reverse. When Dusty recovered from the maneuver, he instantly claimed it with his finger-snap method. He then hopped to the inside section where he did a closeout maneuver and did another finger-snap claim followed by a fist-pumping, pointing gesture to the judges. Unbelievable! Dusty claimed a single wave three times! That beats any Brazilian record for claiming a wave, and made Dusty look like a fool after Slater’s next and final wave. Slater caught a left, gained speed from a few pumps, and blasted a huge full-rotation no-grab backside 360 air. He landed out in the flats for the highest wave score of the event at 9.77! The move lit up the astonished crowd like a firecracker. I think every single person, Slater included, was amazed that he landed that air.
“Dusty had priority and he had gone on a couple of lefts that kind of fizzled out on him and he was probably thinking that left was going to do the same thing his other ones did,” Slater said. “It just let me get going on the face enough and I just tried to rotate as hard as I could and somehow the board stuck to my feet.” Dusty was out. Slater advanced to finals.
The second semi saw Yadin Nicol battle Kolohe Andino. Yadin started with a good right that allowed three solid maneuvers outside before the closeout blast on the inside. Kolohe then caught a higher scoring wave where he pulled a solid 360 reverse on the outside. Yadin fought back with a bigger left where he completed two big snaps on the outside, and then made a smooth transition to the inside completing a variety of turns and snaps. With only a few minutes remaining and having priority, Kolohe needed to catch a wave. When a set finally approached, he pounced on it and started off with another of his patented tail drifting snaps followed by a 360 reverse on the inside. It wasn’t enough. Yadin advanced to finals.
As the finals began, the wind picked up a bit as the sun came out. The last two surfers standing, Slater and Yadin, searched for right wedges with ramps to boost off of. Slater started off with another 360 air reverse. After the air, he made his way to the inside where he completed a succession of snaps, floaters, and tail-releasing carves. It was precise and quick surfing that netted him an 8.50. After about ten minutes, Slater caught another right that gave him the opportunity for a few moves out the back, then some snaps on the inside. After 25 minutes had elapsed, Yadin had yet to catch a single wave! When he finally did, it was totally closed out, and he just went straight. He knew he was beat, and just looked up in the sky as he pulled out of the wave. Slater took the trophy and the $100,000 check.
After the heat was over, Slater spoke about the one-sided final. “I guess Yadin (Nicol) wanted me to win because he didn’t catch any waves,” Slater said. “I was just really frustrated for him because he was sitting out the back waiting for the big sets, and the big sets were close outs. The small ones he was just too far outside and I got them. I think what happened is I got the 8.50 to start and he was just going to be patient. If he got a good one he would have thrown a big rotation, but it just never came.” The champ even felt bad for Yadin towards the end of the heat. “I was so bummed for him that even though I had priority, I told him to go on any wave he wanted! I had a heat like that against Luke Egan at Trestles where I didn’t get a wave until 23 minutes into the heat, so I know what it feels like.”
After a long competition, the hordes of fans slowly exited the contest area towards Main Street and filtered out through the city. Like it or not, Slater had won his first US Open since ’96 in front of a record crowd at the biggest action sports festival in history. Some may say he wins too much, or that the judges push him through heats. But make no mistake, he earned that win, he was dominant from start to finish and never looked back or stumbled in any heat. The question is, how long can he keep doing this? – Ryan Richardson
Photos courtesy US Open Media Downloads.