When close friends Rob Machado and Kelly Slater play Ping-Pong, they compete as though their lives depend on it. So when the two met in the final of the U.S. Open of Surfing in front of an estimated 49,000 people Sunday, a wide-open battle was expected.
But instead of an intense contest, it turned into a runaway as Slater made mistakes and Machado had great rides to win the title and $14,000 at the Huntington Beach Pier.
Slater, the current world champion, started the final round with a 7.50 ride. But Machado came back with back-to-back scores of 5.67 and 6.17 to take the lead.
Machado scored again with an 8.5 ride to increase his lead, but it was still early in the final and everybody seemed to be waiting for Slater to make his move. It appeared Slater, of Cocoa Beach, Fla., was starting to do just that when he scored 8.0 on a wave.
But then things started to fall apart for Slater, who took a rare fall on his fourth wave.
Machado always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. He pulled off some great maneuvers on his fourth wave for a 9.50 score. He then received a 7.43 from the judges on his next wave to increase his lead.
Slater’s performance continued to plunge when he fell for a second time.
Slater broke the tip of his board and he had to break it off to stay in the contest. But with a broken tip, Slater’s board started to soak up water, making it difficult to catch waves. Machado kept widening the lead and finished with 31.93 points to Slater’s 25.77.
“I cracked the tip at Trestles last week when I was surfing with some friends,” Slater said. “I made the mistake of not having a backup board. But I thought it would be OK.”
For Slater, who will take home $7,000, this is the second consecutive time he has lost in the U.S. Open final.
“I hate to lose. But if it was anybody else but Rob, I would really be mad. I’m glad for Rob,” Slater said.
For Machado, of Cardiff by the Sea, the victory was something he’s been wanting for a long time.
“I would have been happy to have gotten to the quarterfinals,” Machado said. “There were 48 surfers who came here to win. And they all have the capacity to win the U.S. Open. So when you’re able to get through all the heats and win, it’s so nice.”
Machado, ranked sixth on the world tour, said his family came to watch him.
“It was so cool. My mom and dad and relatives were watching. So when I’m able to beat the best surfer in the world, yeah, I’m stoked,” Machado said.
And about his friendship with Slater?
“Kelly and I are very close. He stays at my place when he’s in California. But in competition, when we hit the water, you have to forget about friendship,” Machado said. “He wants to win just as bad a I do. And I’m not about to let that happen.”
Shane Beschen, who won the U.S. Open last year, lost to Machado in the semifinals. Machado had a tough time with Beschen, winning by .46. In an earlier quarterfinal, Beschen beat Kaipo Jaquias, 29.54 to 24.17.
In the last two minutes of their semifinal heat, Machado took a slim lead and Beschen only needed a 5.57 wave to overtake Machado. Although the semifinal had plenty of good waves throughout most of the heat, it was flat during the last two minutes of the competition and Beschen was stuck on his board, waiting for anything to come his way.
In the finals of bodyboarding, Spencer Skipper of Hilo, Hawaii, won the title.
Skipper, who said he practiced in “junk waves” back home before coming to California, said the waves at Huntington were the worst possible for a bodyboarder.
Nevertheless, Skipper was able to pull off some spinning maneuvers and rolls to win. “I was milking it for whatever I could,” said Skipper, 19. “It was a bit better earlier in the week, but hey, I’m glad I won.”