The first encounter that Courtney Conlogue had with Sage Erickson was memorable, and not in a friendly way.
They are only two years apart in age and have a long history in junior surf competitions. Conlogue was the younger one from Santa Ana and Erickson the northerner from Ojai, which didn’t sit well with Conlogue.
“I first met her when I was like 12 or 13 and I gave her a good glare,” Conlogue said.
Said Erickson, “We’d be in our wetsuits all day, pretty much staring at each other and avoiding each other at all costs. I definitely remember the smirks and the tension.”
The evolution of their rivalry unfolded Sunday when they were pitted against each other in the women’s final of the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing. Moments after Erickson captured her second Open title in three years, over the defending champion Conlogue, she paddled over to hug her former nemesis.
It was more than a cordial gesture.
“I wouldn’t be the surfer today if it wasn’t for Courtney,” Erickson said. “I had a really good childhood rivalry with her. 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.
“To share an all-California final here at Huntington [Beach], Surf City, it just felt really surreal, and I’m really excited about how that result came, because beating Courtney always is a bonus.”
It was an especially emotional week for the 28-year-old Erickson, who dedicated the win to her late grandmother. She took home the $30,000 prize and the 10,000 points she needs to get back on the world tour. Men’s winner Yago Dora of Brazil also clinched the $30,000 payday and points to close the nine-day event at Huntington Beach Pier.
Erickson said the equal prize money was important because “it represents women and change in equality.” And it was a feather in her cap that it came against Conlogue following six losses to her in head-to-head matchups on the Championship Tour.
Erickson was aggressive early in the final with scores of 7.23 and 8.17. Conlogue’s best was 6.50 and 6.43. She needed an 8.9 late and couldn’t land two big-air attempts. Conlogue was bummed at the result but happy for her friend.
“I love surfing against Sage,” she said. “I have her number so she got me on this day. I’m sure we’ll have a lot more heats in the future. I’m just really happy for her. She’s had a lot going on and this result would mean a lot.”
Dora, 23, was given rock-star treatment as he was carried to the awards stage following his 16.03-11.34 victory against Liam O’Brien of Australia. Dora was an artist all day on the five-foot swell with his signature big-air maneuvers. He scored an 8.60 with a 360-degree reverse that landed perfectly back on the lip of the wave.
“I’m beyond stoked right now,” Dora said. “It’s a huge event. It’s really prestigious, so I’m really happy to come out with the win. It’s one event I always had the goal to win. I had a good feeling about this year. I knew I had to focus and do my best … I got it.”
O’Brien needed an 8.37 but the waves dried up in an otherwise postcard summer scene that produced glassy conditions most of the day.
Dora beat countryman Alex Ribeiro in the semifinals despite one of the best rides of the day. Needing a perfect score, Ribeiro pulled off a 9.33 that gave the crowd a rise. But it would take something bigger to beat Dora. He said he knew it was going to be a good day after a wonky start in the quarterfinals.
“After that, I felt like I couldn’t fall on anything I tried,” he said.