For the first time since 2011, the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing has a defending champion who hails from Huntington Beach.
Kanoa Igarashi, 20, looks to defend his title at the annual nine-day event, which begins Saturday on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier and runs through Aug. 5.
The first two rounds of the junior men’s competition, as well as the Vans Stoke-O-Rama youth surfing event, are scheduled to go off Saturday. The men’s surfing trials are slated for Sunday.
Times for next week will depend on surf conditions. Igarashi is one of several dozen surfers who hopes they are favorable. After winning the final last year against Brazil’s Tomas Hermes, Igarashi called it the best day of his life. His ride of 9.63 in the final was the highest-scoring wave of the event.
Ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Igarashi earlier this year changed his country designation to Japan, not the United States. But he still very much represents Surf City and will undoubtedly be looking to put on a big show at the men’s Qualifying Series 10,000 event.
“I won the event last year and the next day I was already thinking about this year,” Igarashi recently told WorldSurfLeague.com. “I don’t think people realize how much this event means to me. At the U.S. Open, surfers are rock stars. Huntington Beach is such an amazing place to have an event. It’s not about the points or the prize money. It’s all about the crowd. That’s what I thrive off of. It’s what motivates me. Plus, I’m feeling great right now. I’m surfing better than ever and I’m coming off of a roll at J-Bay. I’m just going to take all the momentum and run with it.”
Igarashi placed third in the event at Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, which was completed July 16, losing to new world No. 1 Felipe Toledo of Brazil in the semifinals. Igarashi is ranked No. 17 in the men’s World Championship Tour rankings and his most recent QS win came at an event in Santa Cruz in April.
When Huntington Beach native Brett Simpson won the U.S. Open in 2009, he repeated the following year. It remains to be seen if Igarashi will be able to accomplish the same feat. Simpson, set to be inducted into Huntington Surf & Sport’s Surfing Hall of Fame on Aug. 3, is among the other surfers in this year’s field.
On the women’s side, Sage Hill School graduate Courtney Conlogue, from Santa Ana, looks to contend in her home event, which is a Women’s Championship Tour event.
Conlogue, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, lost in the semifinals last year. The 25-year-old is ranked No. 16 in the Women’s Championship Tour rankings and has been sidelined for much of the season with a foot injury, though she did compete at the J-Bay event, tying for 13th place.
Sage Erickson of Ventura is the defending U.S. Open women’s champion.
“Everyone always loves surfing in front of fans, and [Huntington Beach] has a lot of fans who are pretty knowledgeable as to who is who,” said World Surf League women’s deputy commissioner Jessi Miley-Dyer, a retired former pro surfer from Australia, in an email.
“This is the Southern California ‘home event’ for a lot of these women, so I know they enjoy being able to come here and surf in front of friends and family. The Californians have always done well at HB and they definitely see this event as being an advantage to them over the other surfers on tour (like the Australians).”
Miley-Dyer would know.
Reigning women’s world champion Tyler Wright has withdrawn from the U.S. Open after contracting Influenza A during the J-Bay event. She will be replaced by fellow Australian, Macy Callaghan.
Champions also will be crowned in the men’s and women’s pro junior competitions. Locals in the men’s pro junior event include Tyler Gunter of Newport Beach and Igarashi’s younger brother, Keanu.