Hawaiian surfers take top prizes on last day of U.S. Open of Surfing
The U.S. Open of Surfing takes place annually in Huntington Beach, but this year it belongs to Hawaii.
Hawaiian surfers swept the men’s and women’s finals in the main event on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier on Sunday, Ezekiel Lau taking the men’s crown and Bettylou Sakura Johnson winning in the women’s division.
“I’m so stoked, I’ve always wanted to win the U.S. Open,” Lau, 28, said. “It’s been an event I’ve watched since I was a young kid and I’ve competed in Huntington Beach for so long.
“Andy Irons won it a few years back and he was my role model. This is for him and Sunny [Garcia] and all the Hawaiians. There were so many Hawaiians in finals today, I was so stoked to be a part of that.”
Even the Duct Tape Invitational longboarding finals were Aloha-heavy, with three of the four finalists hailing from Hawaii.
The women’s division had an all-Hawaiian final with Kelis Kaleopaa taking the victory over Honolua Blomfield 12.97-11.47, while Taylor Jensen of San Diego was able to beat Hawaii’s Kaniela Stewart 13.84-11.60 in the men’s final.
“It means everything,” Lau said of the Hawaiian presence. “We’re all here trying to do the same thing, and that’s represent Hawaii. I was just really proud and happy to be here on finals day with all of them. Everyone was putting on crazy performances and when Bettylou won hers, I was, ‘Oh, it’s up to me now, I’ve got to put this away.’”
Lau faced Joao Chianca in the men’s final, but trailed the Brazilian in the 35-minute heat with less than 10 minutes remaining, needing a 5.94. Lau got the wave he needed, taking a left and throwing two big snaps on the outside to score a 6.90 and take the lead.
Chianca needed a 6.18 in the waning minutes but never got a good-scoring wave, allowing Lau to take home the victory and the $20,000 prize, winning 12.40-11.43.
“For me, the finals are all mental,” Lau said. “You decide, ‘do I want to get second or do I want to win right now?’ You’ve got to make those decisions when you’re in the water. I’m not trying to make the heat anymore, I’m trying to win, and that’s what I was doing out there.
“I went hard at it in the beginning, trying to get some scores on the board and be offensive. And then, toward the end, needing scores and seeing what the situation was, just making those clutch decisions, whether to go or not.”
In the women’s final, 17-year-old Sakura Johnson posted scores of 6.93 and 5.07 for a two-wave score of 12.00, overcoming Australian Macy Callaghan’s 10.40 to win the event and the $20,000 prize.
Sakura Johnson had to advance through five heats just to reach the final, and that included beating an Australian in the quarters, semis and finals, completing a long and successful week.
“Honestly, I think it’s my mindset,” Sakura Johnson said when asked to explain her success. “This event, I have everything I need. I have all my friends and family supporting me. I have family from Hawaii that’s getting up early and watching [online]. I have my coach Ross [Williams]. I think it’s all coming together and it feels great.”
Callaghan beat her close friend Caroline Marks in the semis to reach the final, her second consecutive final in a World Surf League Challenger Series event, following last month’s Ballito Pro in South Africa.
“I’ve just been putting a little less pressure on myself compared to other years,” Callaghan said. “Two back-to-back finals, I would have never imagined doing that this year. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do the Challenger Series this year, I wasn’t sure I wanted to get back on tour or even if competitive surfing was something for me. But I think it might be now, I’m pretty happy.”
In the two men’s semifinals, the last of the Mainlanders were eliminated. Ventura’s Eithan Osborne was taken out by Lau, 12.77-11.34, while Florida’s Even Geiselman was eliminated by Chianca in the closest heat on Finals Day, 12.64-12.54.
In the Vans Showdown skate competition, the men’s winner was Jhancarlos Gonzalez of Colombia, and the women’s winner was Hayley Wilson of Australia, each taking home $10,000.
The best trick awards went to Mason Silva of Manhattan Beach (men) and Wenhui (Zoe) Zeng (women) of China.
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