Meah Collins woke up at 4:30 a.m. on Monday and was too nervous to eat.
A short trip from her home in Newport Beach to Huntington Beach brought her to a big opportunity, with straightforward stakes: Finish first among four surfers in a heat and qualify for her first Women’s Championship Tour event. Finish second or lower and stay on the outside looking in.
While warming up, Collins broke the nose of her board and had to switch to a backup. Then she waded into the water apprehensively and didn’t take a wave until halfway through the 30-minute round.
But she won, pushing her way into the main event of the U.S. Open of...