As Alejo Muniz was carried through the crowd after winning the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing, he raised his fingers to the sky while a fan draped a Brazilian flag around his back. The flag read "Ordem e Progresso" ("Order and Progress"), although it was the disorder in his life that had caused him to come to tears.
Four years to the day, his grandfather died. Two weeks ago, his grandmother followed. Yet, nothing could take his eyes off the sky above him at Huntington Beach.
"In the end, I knew they were sending those waves to me. That is why I pointed to the sky," Muniz said. "I really believe it and I know they were with me all the time ... They're happy. I know it."
The first thing he did was call home to Santa Catarina, Brazil, to share the news of his $100,000 prize with his family, with whom he had spent every minute of his preparation for the U.S. Open in grieving.
"Before I came to California I went to my hometown to be with my family for two weeks," Muniz said as he was caught looking at the sky again. "I found out the key is to just be happy."
It's that very disorder in his life that allowed him to become a beacon of progress for Brazilian surfing. With the win over local favorite Kolohe Andino, Muniz became a national hero: the first from Brazil to win the U.S. Open of Surfing.
And come Monday morning, he was stunned to think crowds of Brazilian teenagers will brave the winter waters pretending to be him as little Alejinhos in the breakwater.
"I can't even think about that," the 23-year-old said. "I hope I help a lot of people from Brazil or South America to believe in your dreams because all is possible."
Muniz, who considers himself Brazilian, used to hide the fact that he was born in Argentina because of schoolyard taunts. Now, it is the Argentine-by-blood who is shattering the longstanding stereotype that Brazilian surfers were the sport's lower class: arrogant, tawdry nuisances who could never compete in the big surf.
Now, it is the Brazilian-by-heart who rules the sport's prize event.
"It started with all those Brazilians who had no sponsors, couldn't speak English. It's incredible to put my little name under [theirs]," Muniz said. "I can say to people there is more to come from Brazil … But I have two countries cheering for me."
Moore wins second U.S. Open title
She's only 20, but Hawaiian surfer Carissa Moore has taken the waters of women's surfing by storm, notching her second U.S. Open women's title.
Accompanying the win over Santa Ana native Courtney Conlogue is a $15,000 purse, but Moore also jumped into first place on the ASP Women's World Championship tour with only two events left in the season.
"It feels amazing to win the U.S. Open two times. It's just such a wonderful feeling," Moore said. "It was such an exciting finish with Courtney. I was so nervous coming down to the last wave, but that's what makes our sport so great."
Moore cruised out to an early lead in the 35-minute final, but Conlogue made a furious comeback, including a scintillating run with a minute left that had the entire event eagerly awaiting a final score. But ultimately, Conlogue fell 0.73 points short of her Hawaiian opponent.
"When I heard the crowd roar, I had thought I lost it," Moore said. "But I had faith and it all worked out."
Meanwhile on Saturday, Santa Barbara native Conner Coffin won his second straight U.S. Open Junior Pro championship while South African Bianca Buitendag took the women's Junior Pro title with an almost-perfect 18.10 score.
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