HUNTINGTON BEACH — Over the final few days of the 2012 Nike U.S. Open of Surfing, Julian Wilson earned the moniker Comeback Kid.
The 23-year-old Aussie, ranked No. 10 in the world, started earning the nickname Saturday when he rallied to eliminate local favorite and two-time U.S. Open Men's champion Brett Simpson in the Men's Prime round of 16. In the quarterfinals later that day, Wilson came back to knock off John John Florence of Hawaii. On Sunday , the name stuck for good when he hit a big wave score in the final minute of his semifinal heat to slip past Gabriel Medina of Brazil.
Despite registering three comeback wins just to make it to Sunday's final, Wilson, a native and resident of Coolum Beach, Queensland, Australia, needed no such dramatics against another Brazilian, Miguel Pupo.
Wilson grabbed the lead early in the 35-minute final heat and went on to outscore Pupo, 17.53 to 14.76, to win the title and a $100,000 check. The victory, his first at the U.S. Open, capped a nine-day run of surfing competition at the Huntington Beach Pier.
Less than an hour before Wilson emerged from the water with the Men's title, a battle of teen titans determined the Women's crown. In the end, 17-year-old Lakey Peterson of Santa Barbara defeated 2010 U.S. Open Women's champion, Carissa Moore, 19, of Hawaii, 10.90 to 8.64. Peterson took home $15,000.
Also Sunday, Joel Tudor won the Pacifico Nose Riding Challenge final.
Sage Hill School graduate Courtney Conlogue, ranked No. 5 on the Assn. of Surfing Professionals World Tour, lost in the Women's Pro quarterfinals and finished tied for fifth. The Santa Ana resident pocketed $6,000.
Newport Harbor High graduate Kaleigh Gilchrist finished fourth in the Junior Women's Pro, collecting $650.
Newport Beach resident Andrew Doheny, 19, lost in the quarterfinals of the Men's Junior Pro. He finished tied for 13th, good for $700.
The weekend's surf action started with the Junior Pro Women's and Men's finals Saturday . Nikki Van Dijk, 17, of Australia won the Jr. Pro Women's event, and Conner Coffin, 19, of Santa Barbara topped the Junior Pro Men's field.
It was a good weekend for the Santa Barbara-Australia connection.
"I really wanted to get a good start, and I got it," Wilson said of the Men's final, moments after he exited the water. "It was an exciting final and I'm really, really happy."
Pupo took the first two wave scores of the contest and held the edge in wave attempts over Wilson (10-7) for the heat. The 20-year-old, ranked No. 17 in the world, who had been undefeated at the Open prior to the final, earned wave scores of 3.00 and 4.17 on his first two attempts. Wilson, however, took command after hitting a 9.13 score on his first wave. He went on to post a 7.50 three wave scores later.
Pupo made a charge by hitting an 8.93, with nine minutes left, and needed a 7.71 score to overtake Wilson. It didn't happen. Pupo's highest score over his final five wave scores was a 4.93.
Not needing any comeback score to pull this one out, Wilson capped his week-long competition with a final-wave score of 8.40.
"This was a special heat for me," Wilson said. "I had three really hard heats in a row: Brett Simpson, [Florence] and [Medina]. The waves were slow out there and that put pressure on [me] during the dying minutes of those heats. When those waves did come, I made the most of my opportunities.
"The whole week was challenging."
Peterson knew the feeling of winning a U.S. Open title. Last year, she captured the Junior Pro Women's crown and was almost a double winner. In last year's Women's final, she finished second to Sally Fitzgibbons of Australia.
In Sunday's Women's final, Peterson never trailed Carissa Moore. Her first wave score of 6.50 was the best of the 35-minute heat, and she later hit a 4.40. Moore, meanwhile, hit a top wave score of 5.40.
Moore on Sunday had denied Fitzgibbons a shot at repeating by defeating the defending champion in a semifinal.
The U.S. Open Women's final was the last of the seven-event 2012 Women's World Tour. Peterson, who left Monday for Bali, Indonesia, said the week-long competition was 'chaotic but amazing."
"Just how colossal and huge it is," she said of the magnitude of the U.S. Open of Surfing. "Six-hundred thousand people over the week ... that's absurd."