Toledo and Kanoa Igarashi collided before priority was established in their semifinal heat, earning Toledo an interference and a swift exit from competition.
Toledo and Kanoa Igarashi collided before priority was established in their semifinal heat, earning Toledo an interference and a swift exit from competition.

The Doherty Report: Huntington’s Good, Bad and Ugly

Sean Doherty discusses interference calls, unlikely winners, and US Open's place in surf competition

A qualifier before we get going here. I didn't watch much of the US Open, and when I say much, I mean any. I did catch Ethan Ewing wrapped around the pier. I heard Steph Gilmore got knocked out in the first round. And of course this morning I saw Filipe Toledo get pinged on an interference against – who else! – Huntington's own, Kanoa Igarashi. It was high drama, the biggest news of the event, but this is Huntington of course where historically the sideshow is the main event.

What were the odds of Toledo and Igarashi getting tangled up out there today? Pretty short. On form and with all things being equal, Toledo was going to dine out on this field with a side of fava beans and a nice chianti. Fresh from his dazzling J-Bay win, no one would get near him at Huntington. Unless, say, he got lured into a trap…a trap cunningly set to catch the wave-hungry wolverine.

If you missed it this is how it played out. Their semifinal starts, a wave rolls through: Kanoa in the perfect position for a fat left, Phil in the perfect position for the long, walling right. They both take off and collide. Judging panel emits collective gurgling sound from lower bowels. Not again. On pure surfing, Phil was in the spot. In the real world, backdooring the better wave wins every day of the week, only this isn't the real world, it's Huntington, and the official rulebook had Kanoa – at the center of the peak – as the wave's rightful owner.

It was a straight repeat of what happened between the pair in Brazil earlier this year, and you'd have to draw a conclusion that maybe what happened today wasn't simply happenstance. If it turns out that Kanoa Igarashi and coach Jake Paterson had hatched the plan then it was masterful, because it played to a rule that defied common sense on every surfing level. It was so crazy it might just work…and it did.

I could only imagine what ran though Phil's mind when it got announced. Or worse, what his dad was thinking. I'm sure they were imagining some kind of ritual Huntington payback – maybe flipping a porta potty with Richie Porta inside – but after already being suspended once this year they played it cool. Filipe doesn't want to get banned from Teahupoo now, does he? [Checks long range forecast] No way! Meanwhile, the outrage online flows like boiling lava.

After beating Toledo there was little doubt Igarashi would go on to win the contest. After all, is there an event on Tour that has a better percentage of local winners than this one? Snapper maybe? Brett Simpson was canon fodder everywhere else on Tour, but throw him in the water at Huntington and he transformed into Andy Irons circa 2003. He would rip the arms off his competitors and hit them with the bleeding ends. Igarashi – Huntington's favorite Japanese-American surfer – proved last year at Pipe that he has the potential to shake things up a little out there beyond Huntington. Let's hope for shits and giggles that he draws Toledo again in Tahiti next week and it's 12 foot, in which case I don't think either of them will be quite as hungry for that first wave. There may be some reverse hassling going down instead.

Igarashi was never going to lose after dropping a 9.63 on the first wave of the final for three standard backhand turns and a closeout reo in the shorebreak. Man, if the judges were so excited by that, I wonder what they'd been subjected to during the week. I scrolled back through some of the better heats – men's and women's – and concluded that indeed Huntington has become the event where performance surfing goes to die. The waves don't help, but there was a clip floating around earlier this week – Matt Warshaw, did you drop it? – of the '98 US Open and the surfing looked futuristic compared to what went down this week. The 1986 incarnation of Occy would have won plenty of heats here this week. Eighty-six Curren would have won the whole damn contest.

Huntington is always a strange contest for the ladies that always seems to produce an unlikely winner. As certain as some kind of civil disorder breaking out on finals day, you can bet by the time the quarterfinals roll around in the women's draw there will be no top seeds left. So it proved again this year, only Courtney Conlogue surviving into finals day, missing a gilded opportunity to take the ratings lead and the world title momentum that nobody seems to own at this point.

Instead it was Sage Erickson who won her first Tour event. It's been a while coming, the common criticism of Sage in years past that there was a lack of hard edges in her surfing and lack of a hardass attitude in heats. This year, however, she's shown both and it was cool that she won today. Sage's win – and the top seeds all losing – has created a logjam at the top of the ratings, but for mine, the interest in the top 10 isn't who's at the top, but who's at the bottom. Am I reading this right? Is Carissa Moore at nine and Lakey Peterson at 10? I watched them at Snapper and they looked like one and two.

It seems like it's one of those years.

[Above photo by Ellis]