There was talk before the start of the U.S. Open of Surfing that 2011 could be the year of the Young Guns.
Just days before Sunday's Men's final, former World Tour veteran and first-year contest director Pat O'Connell, felt the same way. But O'Connell was quick to warn of one thing: don't overlook the veterans.
Nobody was able to overlook Kelly Slater at the Huntington Beach Pier over the weekend. Slater, at 39, showed why he is the winningest surfer in history by easily claiming his second U.S. Open title. He out-dueled 25-year-old Yadin Nicol of Australia by an overwhelming final score of 16.27 to 2.57.
It was Slater's first triumph in Surf City since he won the 1996 Men's title.
Less than an hour before Slater defeated Nicol, Sally Fitzgibbons of Australia turned back wild-card Lakey Peterson to win the Women's title. Peterson outscored the 16-year-old, 14.23 to 12.40.
Peterson, the No. 1-ranked Junior surfer in North America, made quite a name for herself during the weekend. She not only made her way into the Women's final but on Saturday, won the U.S. Open Junior Pro Women's title. The Jr. Pro Men's title was won Saturday by Filipe Toledo ofBrazil.
Also Sunday, Joel Tudor (USA) claimed his 10th U.S. Open longboarding title by winning the Pacifico Noseriding Invitational.
Slater was flying high right from the start of the Men's final. He hit an air reverse in the opening 1-minute 50 seconds of the 35-minute heat that drew a huge reaction from a crowd estimated at more than 150,000, and elicited a score of 8.50 from the judges. It would set the standard for the heat and be all Slater would need, really, although his second-best wave score of 7.777 on his third ride of the final gave him an unsurmountable advantage.
Why? Because Slater had eight wave scores while Nicol hadn't taken a wave in the first 32 minutes of the heat.
"Yeah, that kind of sucked for me," said a comical Nicol, whose answer drew a big laugh from the crowd during the awards ceremony. "When someone opens with a big score, you have to kind of wait things out. I didn't think it would be that long a wait, though."
"At the beginning of the week, if someone had told me that I would finish second and surfed against Kelly Slater, I'd have told them to "beat it." To be here now, I'm kind of over the moon."
Slater has won in every corner of the world and now twice in Surf City. He has bettered his placement in the last three years: in 2009 he finished fifth, last year he was tied for third and now takes home a $100,000 paycheck.
"When you come to a contest, you want to win and put on a good show," said Slater, who turns 40 in February. "There are so many young guys out there who are so good."
"Filipe (Toledo) won yesterday and probably most on the beach hadn't even heard of him, but he beat three of the best young guys out there. All these young guys inspire me. I love to surf and love to push myself."
Fitzgibbons held a comfortable lead throughout the Women's final, which was the seventh and final stop on the 2011 Women's World Championship Tour. She earned $15,000 for her win Sunday.
"This is unbelievable," said the New South Wales resident who won in her fifth U.S. Open Women's appearance. "I enjoyed it all and being part of something so massive."
Sunday was full of exciting, down-to-the wire heats action in both divisions.
In the Women's semifinals, Peterson knocked off defending champion and the 2011 World champion Carissa Moore, advancing by the slimmest of margins, 14.67-14.60. In the second semifinal, Fitzgibbons edged Coco Ho of Hawaii, 14.46-14.16.
In the quarterfinals Friday, Moore came back to eliminate Courtney Conlogue of Santa Ana, who won the division in 2009, 16.53-14.44.
Two of the four Men's quarterfinal heats were incredibly close and could have gone either way. Slater slipped past 2004 U.S. Open winner Taj Burrow (Australia), 15.50-15.27, and Andino clipped Dane Reynolds (Ventura), 10-44-10.33.
Payne and Nicol had a little more breathing room in their quarterfinal heats as Payne took down Tanner Gudauskas (USA), 13.93-10.10, and Nicol eliminated Royden Bryson of South Africa, 11.60-8.26.
The Junior Pro Women's title was captured for the first time by Peterson, whose two-best waves total score of 16.07 easily gave her the edge over runner-up Malia Manuel of Hawaii (12.67). Laura Enever of Australia came in third (12.36) and Ho finished fourth (3.66).
Toledo, of Sao Paulo, Brazil, won the Junior Pro Men's title with a 15.17 score. Andino finished second (13.96), John John Florence of Hawaii was third (13.47) and Conner Coffin (Santa Barbara) was fourth (11.44).