I bumped into Brett Simpson in the northside parking lot at the Huntington Beach Pier the other day, and you'd never know only days earlier he was dealt a disappointing end to his quest to rejoin the World Surf League's World Championship Tour (WCT).
Simpson always seems to have a smile on his face, whether he just won the U.S. Open of Surfing as he did in back-to-back years in 2009 and 2010, or if he failed to get back onto surfing premier world stage, as is the case now.
Simpson, 31, seems to have it all figured out, with a wife and two young children providing the proper perspective while supporting his efforts to be among the world's top 34 surfers who compete annually for a world championship.
Simpson surfed in the Vans World Cup at Sunset Beach on the north shore of Oahu last week, needing to place in ninth place or better to be among the top 10-ranked surfers of the Qualifying Series (QS). Those top 10 join the WCT's top 22 and two wild cards to make up the 2017 WCT field.
It would be no easy task, though, considering the Vans World Cup began with 124 surfers in the competition. Simpson, though, couldn't get through his first heat, placing fourth in a four-man heat when he needed to finish in the top two.
San Clemente's Patrick Gudauskas scored a 9.00 and 7.50 on his two scoring waves to win the heat with a total of 16.50. Australia's Tom Whitaker (14.60) and Shun Murakami (6.84) finished in second and third, respectively, ahead of Simpson's two-wave total of 5.07.
"Yeah, I had a really rough ending, nothing really went my way and I made a few mistakes on my waves," Simpson said. "But Sunset really is a wave-catching comp. Some waves allow you to do turns and other waves just don't. Those guys found themselves on a few nice ones and I was trying to push the issue on some more mediocre waves. I never found any flow through that heat."
While next year will be Simpson's second in a row off the WCT, he says he isn't discouraged and is as determined as ever to continue to work his way back. After all, he immediately returned home from the warm waters of Hawaii to much colder water and smaller waves at the pier, still smiling ear to ear.
"It's nice to be back home," he said. "Definitely colder but I actually enjoy it. Suits are pretty good nowadays.
"I've always worked hard. With the kids my hours are numbered but I will keep at it and what's gotten me to where I am. I believe I belong there and I've just got to keep fighting for what's mine."
Though he did not requalify, there were successes in the water over the past year.
"I'm satisfied with my last three or so months," he said. "I gave myself a fighting chance and a good seed for the upcoming year. I really want to win an event. I haven't done that for about six years now so it's really biting me in the butt. I wanna get a win and all will fall into place."
If attitude counts for anything, Simpson will get back into the WCT, sooner or later.
"I'm physically the healthiest I've been in about four years so I am ready to give it another crack," he said. "To be honest it really doesn't do much for anything other than myself. I really enjoy the lifestyle and I'm feeling the urge to win a bit more. It's the second coming of Simpo!"
KEEPING UP WITH KANOA
The final WCT of the season is underway at the Banzai Pipeline on the north shore of Oahu, and Huntington's Kanoa Igarashi will try to finish strong after nine consecutive 13th-place finishes on tour. He placed ninth in the first WCT contest of the season.
Igarashi, 19, is ranked No. 24 in the WCT, but can surf without the pressure of needing a good finish to requalify for next year's WCT. He finished the QS season ranked No. 5, automatically clinching a spot.
COURTNEY NO. 2 IN THE WORLD, AGAIN
The women's WCT finished its season last week with the Maui Women's Pro, Australia's Tyler Wright winning the contest and claiming her first world championship.
Santa Ana's Courtney Conlogue, a Sage Hill School alum, placed third in the event and finished the season ranked No. 2 in the world for the second year in a row.
JOE HAAKENSON is a Huntington Beach-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at email@example.com.