It was 2pm yesterday when Dane Reynolds and his girlfriend Courtney crossed the Pacific Coast Highway with a massive crowd of beachgoers. Courtney laid a towel in the sand while Dane paddled out for a quick session. Only 100 yards away the heats and the fanfare of the U.S. Open were in full-swing, but Dane seemed far from the competitive mindset. Courtney swam out to him and climbed onto his back while he tried to stand up on a mushy peak.
"What are you filming?" a young girl asked me on the beach. "A surfer," I replied. She wore a trucker hat, sunglasses, and a Sharpie tattoo that read "Free Hugs." I was afraid that saying Dane's name here would have the same effect as saying "Justin Bieber" in a crowd of tweens. "Who is it?" she insisted. I reluctantly acquiesced, "Dane Reynolds." "How old is he?" she wanted to know. "He's 26," I said. "Too old," she sulked. I was dumbfounded. "He's Kelly Slater's favorite surfer," I tell her, thinking that would inspire some admiration. She looked at me quizzically, "Who's Kelly Slater?"
Welcome to Huntington Beach, CA. It smells of fresh cut lumbar, and you can share waves with the world's best surfers, if you can find a parking spot. Over the past few weeks, a village of steel and wood has risen from the sand creating a veritable fantasyland for young beachgoers, and with it a modern day Dust Bowl. Young (too young) bodies in scant swimwear vie for free schwag, attention, and a photo with any surfer wearing a singlet. Without his jersey on, Dane is merely Clark Kent, and he manages to go unnoticed.
In the water during his heat this morning, however, Dane did not blend in. With 2 minutes left against Nathaniel Curran, he came hard off the bottom on his backhand, transitioning from rail to rail and blasting a huge turn through the lip. It was a power turn, but above the wave. It was fresh and it was raw and it's the new standard. The judges gave him an 8.67 and a ticket to the Quarterfinals where he'll face Kelly Slater tomorrow.
The Juniors watched Dane's heat intently, with their Semifinals fast approaching. Conner Coffin, in particular, seemed to take a page from Dane in his next heat. He used a deft power-base to dominate his Semifinal with a 9.43 and an 8.33. And unlike most of his peers this week, he did so without a single air-reverse. Conner kept his momentum into the Final, where he immediately slipped into two lefts and went to work on his backhand. Huntington favorite Kanoa Igarashi found brilliant confidence and did his finest surfing of the event, mixing a variety of airs and on-rail turns. The shocker of the final came from defending champ Filipe Toledo, who couldn't find a scoring wave for 25 minutes. He showed visible frustration, splashing water, shouting, and losing composure as the clock wound down. In the end, Kanoa Igarashi certainly had the form and maneuvers to contend with Conner, but perhaps lacked the body mass and strength that so clearly complimented Conner's surfing. At age 14, Kanoa has a bright future ahead, but it was Conner who claimed victory this time.
Joining Conner on the podium from the Junior Women's division was Australia's Nikki Van Dijk, who took down Leila Hurst, Quincy Davis, and Kaleigh Gilchrist in the Final. These young women continue to impress with both incredible surfing and a surprising aggression. Their level of surfing is easily equivalent to that of the Open Women's competitors in years past. From the opening exchange, and perhaps the beginning of the event, Nikki Van Dijk was the woman to beat. In her Semifinal, she did a backside turn that would make the highlight reel among the even the best men’s waves. Nikki entered this event at 14th in the Women's World Ranking, and this result will undoubtedly strengthen her cause and her confidence.—David Lee Scales
Junior Men's Final
1st – Conner Coffin, USA – 17.10
2nd – Kanoa Igarashi, USA – 12.60
3rd – Cooper Chapman, AUS – 11.97
4th – Filipe Toledo, BRA – 3.03
Junior Women's Final
1st – Nikki Van Dijk, AUS – 14.90
2nd – Leila Hurst, HAW – 12.33
3rd – Quincy Davis, USA – 11.83
4th – Kaleigh Gilchrist, USA – 11.30
Check back tomorrow for complete coverage.
Open Men's Quarterfinals
Filipe Toledo vs. Miguel Pupo
Kelly Slater vs. Dane Reynolds
Adriano de Souza vs. Gabriel Medina
John Florence vs. Julian Wilson
Open Women's Semifinals
Malia Manuel vs. Lakey Peterson
Sally Fitzgibbons vs. Carissa Moore