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Sage Erickson wins U.S. Open of Surfing women’s title, denying rival Courtney Conlogue repeat

Sage Erickson celebrates after winning the U.S. Open of Surfing women's title in Huntington Beach on Sunday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

When it was over, Sage Erickson bowed her head and cried.

Erickson had just beaten Santa Ana’s Courtney Conlogue in the women’s final of the U.S. Open of Surfing on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier Sunday afternoon, and her emotions came to the surface.

Conlogue, a longtime rival and friend of Erickson, paddled over and gave her a hug, before Erickson paddled in and greeted hundreds of fans, friends and family members. It was her second U.S. Open win; she also won it in 2017.

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Personally, Erickson is dealing with the passing of her grandmother, Billie Ruth Geer, just two weeks ago. And professionally, Erickson is trying to find her way back onto the World Surf League’s Championship Tour after failing to requalify last year.

Sunday’s victory over Conlogue, the defending champion, will go a long way to get her there, the 10,000-point Qualifying Series event pushing her to No. 2 in the QS rankings. She needs to finish the year in the top six to requalify for the 2020 season.

“In my eyes, this is the biggest surf contest in the world,” Erickson said. “So to be able to win it as a world championship tour event [in 2017] and then to come in as the first 10,000-prime for women with equal pay means a lot more to me than just this win. It represents women and change and equality in that way, and even just to beat Courtney out there.

“This is her home, and she’s been runner-up on the world tour before and she’s an amazing surfer. So I have a lot of confidence moving forward, and a lot of points to get me back on that tour.”

Sage Erickson celebrates after making a big carving turn off the top of a wave in the U.S. Open of Surfing women's final in Huntington Beach on Sunday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Erickson, of Ojai, took home a check for $30,000, the same amount as men’s winner Yago Dora of Brazil. Last year before the WSL’s decision to pay the men and women equally at all events, the men’s winner took home $100,000 and the women’s winner $60,000.

In the final heat, Conlogue’s 6.50 gave her an early lead and she backed it up with a 6.43. Erickson answered with a 7.23 and then added an 8.17 to take control.

The ocean went flat for a spell, and as the clock wound down, Conlogue needed a big score — 8.90 — to regain the lead. She made a couple of attempts at air maneuvers but was unable to pull one off.

“At that point, it’s the final, you’re going for the win,” said Conlogue, a Sage Hill School alumna who earned $15,000 for her second-place finish. “I visualize [air maneuvers] a lot, I don’t get to practice them all the time just because this is my first year being injury free. I was pretty close on that first one, I think a little more practice I might have them on lock.”

The final was just one of many competitions between the two women over the years, going back to their National Scholastic Surfing Assn. days when they were 12 or 13 years old and were fierce rivals.

“We used to sit on opposite sides of the beach and we’d be in our wetsuits all day, staring at each other and avoiding each other at all costs,” Erickson said. “I remember the smirks and the tension, but that’s what pushed me to be a good athlete.

“I wouldn’t be the surfer I am today if it wasn’t for Courtney. I had a real good childhood rivalry with her. A lot of people say she’s ferocious and aggressive out in the water, but on land Courtney is one of the sweetest, most genuine people there is. I always surf my best when I’m with her because I know I have to show up and perform.”

Fans cheer as Yago Dora celebrates winning the U.S. Open of Surfing men's title in Huntington Beach on Sunday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The men’s final featured Dora against Australia’s Liam O’Brien, who became a giant killer in the event. O’Brien helped take out two-time defending champion Huntington’s Kanoa Igarashi in Round 4, then beat CT surfer Jack Freestone in Round 5. In the quarterfinals, he beat defending U.S. Open juniors champ Barron Mamiya and in the semifinals topped San Clemente’s Griffin Colapinto, another CT surfer.

But in the final, O’Brien couldn’t match the air game of Dora, who landed a couple of big airs, garnering big scores to the delight of the throngs of Brazilian fans watching from the beach and pier. O’Brien won $15,000 for placing second.

“I had a good feeling about today,” said Dora, who is ranked No. 25 on the CT and No. 4 on the QS. “I woke up and I knew it was going to be a big day for me. The start of my quarterfinal heat was kind of funky, but after I got the heat win, it got me fired up. After that, I felt I couldn’t fall on anything I tried.”

Colapinto seemed to be on his way to his second consecutive U.S. Open final after last year’s matchup with Igarashi. He started Sunday with a victory over former world champion Adriano de Souza of Brazil in the quarterfinals, but fell to O’Brien in a semifinal heat during which waves were few and far between.

“I was waiting for a set because the heat before there were a bunch of waves that were double overhead,” said Colapinto, who took home $10,000 for his equal-third finish. “I thought I would wait for a bigger wave but it just never came. Not much I could do about that.”

Yago Dora does an aerial near the Huntington Beach Pier during the U.S. Open of Surfing men's final on Sunday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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