There is simply no other way to describe the final minutes of the final heat on the final day of the U.S. Open of Surfing on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier on Sunday.
Huntington Beach’s Kanoa Igarashi and San Clemente’s Griffin Colapinto found themselves in a “can you top this” men’s championship heat, with Igarashi ultimately getting the best of Colapinto in the Qualifying Series 10,000-point event.
The women’s final pitted the world’s No. 1-ranked Stephanie Gilmore, a six-time world champion, against Santa Ana’s Courtney Conlogue, who is just getting back from a broken foot. Conlogue came out on top in the final, winning her second U.S. Open, nine years after her first one in 2009. The contest was the Championship Tour event for the women.
For Igarashi, the victory was his second in a row, matching fellow Huntington Beach native Brett Simpson as the only back-to-back men’s U.S. Open winners.
“Last year I called it the best day of my life; this is probably better than that,” said Igarashi who took home a $100,000 first-place prize. “Two times in a row is crazy. No matter what you do, doing it twice is really hard. It’s the extra pressure and the extra sets of eyes on you, but I lapped it up and loved it. That extra pressure is what fired me up and motivated me.”
With thousands watching from the sand and on the Huntington Beach Pier, Igarashi and Colapinto engaged in a surfers’ version of a shootout in 3-4 foot waves. However, because there were no waves ridden in the first 10 minutes of the 35-minute heat, the heat was restarted.
Then at the 27-minute mark, Colapinto got the first wave and rode it to shore, hitting several maneuvers along the way to put up an 8.00. Igarashi countered with a 7.60, but Colapinto backed up his 8.00 with a 7.00 as the clocked ticked under the 10-minute mark.
Last year I called it the best day of my life; this is probably better than that.
Time continued to tick away, Igarashi needing a 7.41 to move ahead of Colapinto. Then it happened — with just two minutes remaining, a set wave rolled in and Igarashi hammered it to an 8.17. Colapinto, though, wasn’t finished. Needing a 7.78 to move back ahead, he caught a mid-break wave with three seconds remaining, but it was scored a 6.33, allowing Igarashi to take the title, 15.77-15.00.
“I didn’t really get a turn on the outside, so the wave let me down a little,” Colapinto said of his last-second opportunity. “So I was hoping for a huge section on the inside, and I did get a section but it didn’t have the meat on the bone that I was hoping for.”
Igarashi and Colapinto, both 20 years old, are no strangers. They met in the U.S. Open Junior men’s final in 2015, with Colapinto coming out on top. And they go back even further, competing against each other in National Scholastic Surfing Assn. contests when they were as young as 9 and 10 years old.
“I’d call it a rivalry at this point,” said Colapinto, who is in his first year on the CT and currently ranked No. 10 in the world. “I want to beat him more than anything. I think we might be in the same heat together in Tahiti [the next CT contest starting next week], so it’s back on, you know?”
“For sure, we push each other,” said Igarashi, ranked No. 17. “He just showed how much we bring out of each other. He did his best surfing, I did my best surfing, and he brought the best out of me, so I’m thankful for that.”
In the women’s final, it was an emotional victory for Conlogue, whose world championship hopes were dashed early in the year when she suffered a broken foot in training. She missed four events, then returned to the CT last month at J-Bay in South Africa, finishing 13th.
But the Sage Hill High School graduate knows Huntington Beach well, surfing the break all her life, and she smashed through all her heats throughout the contest like a locomotive.
Conlogue had already taken out No. 2 Lakey Peterson in the quarterfinals, before beating No. 1 Gilmore in the final, 13.83-11.86, and taking home the $60,000 first-place prize. It is Conlogue’s second U.S. Open title, the last one coming in 2009 when she was just 16.
“Honestly, it’s different,” Conlogue said when asked to compare the two. “The one in 2009 was quite amazing for that point in my life. And now this one has its own pinnacle for me. I’m coming off an injury and it’s the first event I’ve actually felt 100%.”
Paddling to shore after the win to a jubilant crowd of friends, family and fans, Conlogue felt a rush of emotions.
“Joy, relief, so much happiness, thankfulness and just lots of cheer,” she said with a giggle.
In the BMX Pro Cup finals, Dennis Enarson of San Diego won the men’s event and Nikita Ducarroz of San Marcos won the women’s event.
JOE HAAKENSON is a Huntington Beach-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.