Joe Surf: Women are the ones to watch at the US Open

More and more girls, young women and even not-so-young women are surfing these days, so it stands to reason that the professional women are on the rise as well.

The US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach will have plenty of interesting storylines playing out when it gets underway July 30 on the south side of the pier.

There will be stories like H.B. local Brett Simpson's quest for an unprecedented third consecutive men's crown, and one more appearance — possibly his last — by Kelly Slater, who, at 39, is still ripping with the young guns.

It'll also be worth watching the best female surfers in the world, and not just because they are "surfing like guys."

The US Open is the final stop for the women on this year's Assn. of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Tour, but there will be no drama as to who wins the ASP Women's World Title.

Carissa Moore of Hawaii clinched the crown last weekend at the Roxy Pro in Biarritz, France, the sixth of seven stops on the 2011 ASP Women's World Tour.

Moore and Australian Sally Fitzgibbons engaged in a growing rivalry throughout the ASP season, with Moore reaching the final heat in all six contests and taking the title three times.

Fitzgibbons reached the final heat three times. She won two contest titles (both in head-to-head matchups with Moore) and entered the Roxy Pro at Biarritz needing to beat Moore to give herself a fighting chance going into the US Open.

It didn't happen.

At 18, Moore became the youngest women's world champion ever, and the first women's champ from Hawaii in 30 years. Moore took the title from Australia's Stephanie Gilmore, who entered this season as the four-time defending world champion. Ironically, it was Gilmore who helped Moore clinch the crown.

Gilmore and Fitzgibbons were locked up in a semifinal heat at Biarritz, with Moore on the beach watching to see who she'd go up against in the final. But a victory by Gilmore knocked Fitzgibbons out of contention for the world title by giving Moore an insurmountable lead — with 55,000 points compared to Fitzgibbons' 48,150 — heading to Huntington.

"It is kind of weird to win on the beach," Moore said on http://www.aspworldtour.com. "I have always visualized and imagined winning the final or a heat and coming in and winning, but I'm so happy and excited. I have been thinking about this for a long time since I was a little girl, and just to be here right now and being world champ is pretty crazy.

"I have had this goal written on my door and it has been waiting there for a long time to be ticked off, so I can't wait to go home and cross it out."

Moore and Fitzgibbons, 20, are friendly with each other but figure to be battling it out for the women's world crown for years to come. And it wouldn't be wise to count out Gilmore, the "old lady" at 23, who besides her four world titles has won 18 elite tour events, including her first one six years ago when she was 17.

Another woman to watch at the US Open will be Courtney Conlogue, who is the only mainland American among the 17 on the ASP World Tour. Conlogue, 18, is from Santa Ana and surfs regularly in Huntington Beach. And though she may be a rookie on the ASP World Tour, she is no stranger to going up against the world's best and succeeding. In 2009, at 16, Conlogue won the US Open.

When it comes to women's surfing, the women are not only getting better, but they're getting noticed. They are getting sponsored like the guys, and the tour money continues to improve.

When Conlogue won the US Open in 2009, she got a check for $10,000. One year later, in 2010, Moore took home a check for $50,000 with her US Open victory, which was the richest first-place prize in women's surfing history.

By comparison, Simpson's US Open win earned him $100,000 last year.

JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at joe@juvecreative.com.

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