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Men’s, women’s semifinals set at U.S. Open of Surfing

U.S. surfer Caroline Marks competes during the U.S. Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach Pier on Saturday.
U.S. surfer Caroline Marks competes in Heat 2 of the Challenger Series women’s quarterfinals during the U.S. Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach Pier on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Reaching Finals Day is nothing new to Caroline Marks, but it’s safe to say the Florida native and current San Clemente resident has a new appreciation for such an accomplishment.

Marks was one of four women to win their quarterfinal heat Saturday on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier and reach the semifinals of the U.S. Open of Surfing. The semifinals and finals will be held in both the men’s and women’s divisions Sunday, starting with the first women’s semifinal heat beginning at 9:35 a.m.

Marks will go up in the first heat against Macy Callaghan of Australia, while the other women’s semifinal will feature Bettylou Sakura Johnson of Hawaii against Sophie McCulloch of Australia starting at approximately 10:05 a.m.

Sunday’s men’s semifinals will showcase Ezekiel Lau of Hawaii vs. Eithan Osborne of Ventura (10:35 a.m.) and Evan Geiselman of Florida vs. Joao Chianca of Brazil (11:05 a.m.).

San Clemente resident Caroline Marks walks out of the water Saturday after winning her U.S. Open quarterfinal heat.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Marks is just 20 years old, but success has become expected of her, and with good reason. She was youngest woman ever to qualify for the World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT) at age 15 in 2017, surfing her rookie season in 2018 at age 16 and finishing No. 7 in the world.

She’s won three CT contests (two in 2019 and one in 2021), and she finished No. 2 in the world in 2019. And finally, she was one of two American women to surf for the United States in the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan.

But with the success comes pressure and expectations. After a disappointing 17th-place finish in this year’s first CT contest at Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu in January, Marks decided to take time away from the CT to deal with some recurring medical and health issues.

After four months off, Marks returned in June with a bang, finishing third at the CT event in El Salvador, and then nabbing a couple of fifth-place finishes in Brazil and South Africa.

Brazilian surfer Joao Chianca, center, smiles for photos with a supporter after advancing to the U.S. Open semifinals.
Brazilian surfer Joao Chianca, center, smiles for photos with a supporter after advancing to the U.S. Open semifinals.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“I’ve always been someone who is surf-stoked, and I love competing,” Marks said recently in an interview with STAB Magazine. “Having said that, I started on tour pretty young — time flew by, one event after another, and I never had time to reset. If you do anything, year after year, it starts to feel normal. I was run down.

“After taking a step back, I feel rejuvenated again.”

Her mindset now — “concentrate on fun, ignore the pressure” — is working. She beat Australia’s Molly Picklum Saturday in the quarters with a couple of seven-point scores, totaling 14.46 to Picklum’s 9.30. In the Round of 16 she had a two-wave score of 14.83, in the Round of 32 she had a 14.33 and in the Round of 64 she had a 16.07.

She said she feels she’s surfing at 100%, and it doesn’t hurt that Huntington is a wave she’s surfed hundreds of times.

“This is more like typical Huntington, especially this time of year,” Marks said of Saturday’s three-to-four foot swell. “We’ve had a bit of everything for this event. We’ve had it really small, to super big, to now where it’s fun, to small again. But it actually got better, I went for a free-surf this morning and the waves feel a lot better, and it cleaned up a little bit, so yeah, I feel comfortable.”

U.S. surfer Eithan Osborne competes in Heat 2 of the Challenger Series men's quarterfinals Saturday in Huntington Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Osborne is the only Californian remaining in the men’s contest and, like Marks, has surfed Huntington multiple times in contests, growing up two hours north in Ventura.

He had his hands full with Lucas Mesinas in the quarterfinals, Mesinas surfing for his home country of Peru in the Olympics and also beginning this season on the CT, placing as high as fifth in the contest at Pipeline.

But Osborne was able to out-point Mesinas 13.87-12.60 with wave scores of 7.00 and 6.87.

"[The conditions were] a lot smaller and slower but there was at least two good sets a heat, so I knew if I waited for that bigger left, I’d be OK,” Osborne said. “I tried a couple airs and I kept falling, and I was having a panic attack, just kept falling on everything. Then I got the one wave with a seven and I started breathing again. I just told myself to just relax and breathe a little bit.”

In Sunday’s semifinal, Osborne will be another surfer with CT experience in Lau. Lau’s quarterfinal heat Saturday against Australia’s Liam O’Brien included a fog delay, the surfers instructed to get out of the water with 8:25 remaining in the heat because the judges could not see the surfers.

Brazilian surfer Joao Chianca catches big air during the U.S. Open of Surfing on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Lau held the lead at the time of the interruption, and held onto it against O’Brien, who was a U.S. Open finalist in 2019. It was the closest heat in the quarters, Lau winning 12.17 to 12.10.

“I kind of just broke it up into two heats,” Lau said of the fog delay. “I run a lot of drills at home, like 10-minute drills, or I put scenarios in my head where it’s, OK, right now you need an eight, or a seven, or a five. I just played that game with myself.”

The Vans Duct Tape Invitational longboard semifinals and finals also will be contested on Sunday in both the men’s and women’s divisions.

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