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Women get in on fun at ISA World Surfing Games

Julia Kulish of Ukraine rides a wave Tuesday during the ISA World Surfing Games in Huntington Beach.
Julia Kulish of Ukraine rides a wave Tuesday during the ISA World Surfing Games in Huntington Beach.
(Ben Reed / ISA)

The women’s open heats started Monday at the International Surfing Assn. World Surfing Games on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier.

It’s a place where Sophie McCullough of Australia found success earlier this summer.

McCullough was a semifinalist at the U.S. Open of Surfing. She also had the highest heat total of the day Monday at the ISA World Surfing Games, a massive 16.43 in the second round.

Surfing is largely an individual sport; this is the first time McCullough has represented her country since the 2015 ISA World Juniors.

“When I got asked to come away with Team Australia it was a bit of a no-brainer for me,” she said. “We’ve got a really good vibe going and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

The women got through the third round of the main event and the second round of repechage Tuesday. The repechage, similar to a “loser’s bracket” in other sports, give surfers who lose in the main event a second chance to reach the final, albeit via a much longer road.

McCullough placed second in her third-round heat Tuesday, advancing to round four of the main draw. Repechage heats are planned all day on Wednesday, for both the men and women.

The event runs through the finals on Saturday morning, with the men’s and women’s team champions each earning an Olympics qualification spot for their country.

That spot is in addition to the maximum of two athletes per country, per gender, for the Paris Olympics in 2024.

Nat Young, representing Team USA, holds the hand of his young daughter Rocky Rose during a break from competition Tuesday.
Nat Young, representing Team USA, holds the hand of his young daughter Rocky Rose during a break from competition Tuesday.
(Pablo Franco / ISA)

Another woman who easily advanced Tuesday was Gabriela Bryan, this year’s World Championship Tour Rookie of the Year. The 20-year-old from Hawaii scored a 15.17 on Tuesday in the third round — the top score of the round for the women.

McCullough and Bryan will surf against each other in the first heat of round four. Other notables to advance to round four include Olympian Sally Fitzgibbons of Australia and Kirra Pinkerton of San Clemente.

On the men’s side, Huntington Beach native Kanoa Igarashi, representing Japan, continued to put on a show. Igarashi wowed the crowd in recording the two highest-scoring waves of the day — an 8.83 and 8.67.

Igarashi, a two-time U.S. Open of Surfing champion who was a silver medalist at the inaugural surfing event in the Olympics last summer, has advanced into round five Wednesday.

Hometown hero Kanoa Igarashi gets some air Tuesday during the ISA World Surfing Games in Huntington Beach.
Hometown hero Kanoa Igarashi gets some air Tuesday during the ISA World Surfing Games in Huntington Beach.
(Ben Reed / ISA)

“He had a double aerial and then shot the pier,” said Kelly Miller, the president and chief executive of Visit Huntington Beach, which is hosting the event. “It was unbelievable.”

Igarashi will surf in the first of the men’s round five heats, alongside Jadson Andre of Brazil, Santiago Muniz of Argentina and Guilherme Fonseca of Portugal.

Leonardo Fioravanti of Italy, Samuel Pupo of Brazil, Lucca Mesinas of Peru and Jackson Baker of Australia will vie in the second heat. Two Americans — Nat Young of Santa Cruz and Kolohe Andino of San Clemente — are in heat three along with Miguel Pupo of Brazil and Gatien Delahaye of France.

Miller said the conditions have been ideal, for the surfers and spectators alike.

“We continue to experience the wonderful good luck of waves and weather when the ISA holds events in Huntington Beach,” Miller said. “It’s been incredible, period. Temperatures are in the 70s and 80s, and the waves are really clean in the morning and they’re still large in the afternoon. A little windy, but the heats today were incredible.”

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