It was the final from down under with Australians Neridah Falconer and Layne Beachley battling for the women’s championship at the U.S. Open of Surfing.
In blown-out, choppy conditions, Falconer started Saturday’s final with three big waves to gain the lead. That forced Beachley to paddle madly to try to catch any wave.
Though Beachley caught some waves, it was apparent her scores would not match those of Falconer, who received marks of 8.0, 7.50, 7.0 and 6.93.
“Yup, this is a very important win for me,” said Falconer, the fifth-ranked surfer on the world tour. “But it’s nice to see two Australians in the final.”
Beachley, an Australian who lives in Newport Beach, had just come off an upset of world champion Lisa Andersen in the semifinals. In that heat, Andersen could not get into a rhythm and was unable to score higher than 6.50.
“I wanted to beat Lisa real bad. She beat me in South Africa, so it was nice to get back at her,” said Beachley, who is ranked third on the tour.
Said Andersen: “I really lost my rhythm out there. It’s really hard to play your hand when [the waves are] so small.”
Last year, Andersen lost to Frieda Zamba of Florida in the final.
Early on Saturday, it appeared the two Australians would be riding a tide of good luck. In a quarterfinal heat, Falconer was awarded a victory over Tricia Gill after the two tied.
Gill, from Carlsbad, was prematurely called the winner by the announcers after the heat, which ended with both surfers scoring 22.23. But after recounting the scores of Falconer and Gill, Falconer was declared the winner.
Falconer said the episode gave her a fright and made her change strategy going into the semifinals and final.
“After [what happened] this morning, I didn’t want to wait long for the waves. So I caught as many as I could,” she said.
For Falconer and Beachley, the victory was particularly sweet because Australian women have not fared particularly well at the U.S. Open.
“Australians usually don’t do so well in California because of the size of the waves. And that’s why the Americans dominate so much. But it’s nice to come here and win the U.S. Open,” said Falconer, whose 8.80 quarterfinal wave score was the highest of the day among the women.
Said Beachley: “It was great for the Australians to dominate the U.S. Open. I think it’s good for the sport.”
Aside from Andersen, Gill was the only U.S. woman to make it to the quarterfinal and semifinal heats.
Tahitian Patricia Rossi, 23, posted strong victories in the second round and the quarterfinals, but lost in the semifinals to Falconer.
In the fourth round of men’s surfing, second-ranked Sunny Garcia was upset by fellow Hawaiian Kaipo Jaquias.
Garcia, who won the Op Pro last week, had been dominating his heats and was one of the favorites for this competition.
Hampered by poor waves, the Garcia-Jaquias matchup came down to who caught the most waves.
Jaquias took an immediate lead with an 8.0 score and caught five more. Garcia had four waves, with his highest score a 7.50.
“He [Garcia] let some waves go by and that might have cost him. But I just started off better than Sunny,” Jaquias said.
Jaquias said although it was good to win, his friendship with Garcia makes it tough to relish the victory.
“We’re good friends. We are always hoping the best for each other when we compete,” said Jaquias, who advanced to the quarterfinals. “But when you compete in conditions like this, one mistake can cost you. It’s so weird. It’s 25 minutes of pressure and there are a lot of mind games going on out there.”
For defending champion Shane Beschen, the small waves paid off.
“I wish the waves were a little larger,” said Beschen of San Clemente, who beat Vetea David of Australia to advance. “I had to sort of feel my way out there.”
Beschen said he partly owed his best wave of the heat to David.
“He let me have it and I was able to get some good maneuvers off of it. He [David] took the wave behind mine but dug a rail and didn’t score as high as mine,” Beschen said.
Beschen will face Jaquias in the quarterfinals today. Asked about a possible rematch with Kelly Slater in the semifinals, Beschen said he’s not thinking about it.
Last year, Beschen beat Slater in the final.
“I’ll be surfing against Kaipo who beat Sunny,” said Beschen, “so I’m taking one heat at a time.”
Slater seemed to have a hard time in the small-wave conditions. Unlike a previous heat, Slater shared the lead with Michael Barry of Australia. But Slater was able to catch three high-scoring waves late in the heat to win it. Slater will face Damien Hardman of Australia in the quarterfinals today.
Flavio Padaratz of Brazil lost to Hardman, and was clearly frustrated by the conditions. “I have nothing to say. I haven’t practiced for three days because I knew it wouldn’t make a difference in these waves. The surfer who wins the U.S. Open is going to have a star over his head,” said Padaratz, referring to the fact that it will take a little luck, along with skill, to win.
Also advancing was Rob Machado of Cardiff, Shane Dorian of Holualoa, Hawaii, Shane Powell of Australia and Todd Holland of Indian Harbor, Fla.
Joel Tudor of San Diego continued his dominance on the longboard, winning the final Saturday.
Tudor, using a 10-foot replica of David Nueva’s 1962 longboard, dominated the final heat, finishing at 32.84, 10 points ahead of second-place finisher Ted Robinson of Manhattan Beach. Josh Baxter of San Clemente finished third and Ben Stone of La Conchita was fourth.
Tudor, who won the Op Pro, demonstrated some astounding nose rides. Asked about the short boarders’ many complaints about no waves, Tudor smiled and said, “Who cares?”
At Huntington Beach
Men’s fourth round
(winner advances to quarterfinals)
Heat 1--1. Shane Powell, Australia; 2. Fabio Gouveia, Brazil. Heat 2--1. Shane Dorian, Holualoa, Hawaii; 2. Taylor Knox, Carlsbad. Heat 3--1. Damien Hardman, Australia; 2. Flavio Padaratz, Brazil. Heat 4--1. Kelly Slater, Cocoa Beach, Fla.; 2. Michael Barry, Australia.
Heat 5--1. Kaipo Jaquias, Waipahu, Hawaii; 2. Sunny Garcia, Honolulu. Heat 6--1. Shane Beschen, San Clemente; 2. Vetea David, Australia. Heat 7--1. Todd Holland, India Harbor, Fla.; 2. Larry Rios, Honolulu, Hawaii. Heat 8--1. Rob Machado, Cardiff; 2. Stuart Bedford-Brown, Australia.
Final--1. Joel Tudor, San Diego; 2. Ted Robinson, Manhattan Beach; 3. Josh Baxter, San Clemente; 4. Ben Stone, La Conchita.
(top two in each heat advance)
Heat 1--1. Josh Baxter, San Clemente; 2. Joel Tudor, San Diego; 3. Geoff Moysa, San Clemente; 4. Joey Valentin, Aiea, Hawaii. Heat 2--1. Ted Robinson, Manhattan Beach; 2. Ben Stone, La Conchita; 3. Colin McPhillips, Capistrano Beach; 4. Brendan White, Capistrano Beach.
Final--1. Neridah Falconer, Australia; 2. Layne Beachley, Australia.
Heat 1--1. Layne Beachley, Australia; 2. Lisa Andersen, Ormond Beach, Fla.; Heat 2--1. Neridah Falconer, Australia; 2. Patricia Rossi, Tahiti.
(winner advances to semifinals)
Heat 1--1. Layne Beachley, Australia; 2. Michelle Donoghoe, Australia. Heat 2--1. Lisa Andersen, Ormond Beach, Fla.; 2. Kylie Webb, Australia. Heat 3--1. Patricia Rossi, Tahiti; 2. Miyuki Onozato, Japan. Heat 4--1. Neridah Falconer, Australia; 2. Tricia Gill, Carlsbad.