"I'm nearly in tears at the moment," said Brett Simpson midday Sunday, as he stood surrounded by friends, family, and countless local fans who'd come out to watch him beat 2007 World Champ and Dream Tour superstar Mick Fanning. Simpson had a lot to feel emotional about, including a win over a world-class athlete at his home break, a big bump in his campaign to qualify for the World Tour in 2010, and a check for $100,000—the biggest ever awarded for a first-place finish at a surf contest.
Simpson and Fanning came out of the gates swinging in the final, each racking up solid scores early on, but Simpson clearly had the advantage as the tide came up bringing with it tricky sections and unexpected peaks. Though the awe-inspiring surf of Friday and Saturday were clearly diminished when the sun came up Sunday morning, they had been replaced by what seemed like hundreds of thousands of surf fans; a teeming river of souls marched down Huntington's famous Main Street, lined the Pier, and packed the beach.
"I knew the tide was coming up and there weren't going to be as many waves," Simpson said. "I knew I needed a quick start. We [Mick Fanning and I] both got off to pretty quick starts. We both picked up some good scores off the bat and I was able to build a little momentum throughout my opening waves. I couldn't believe it when the heat finished – I'm still at a loss."
In a nine-day event that included 97 heats and 2,213 waves scored, at least one perfect 10, various finals, expression sessions, and non-stop action, Simpson's win was certainly the highlight.
Hurley U.S. Open of Surfing
1. Brett Simpson (USA) – $100,000
2. Mick Fanning (AUS) – $10,000
3. C.J. Hobgood (USA), Adriano De Souza (BRA) – $5,000
5. Nathaniel Curran (USA), Kelly Slater (USA), Pat Gudauskas (USA), Michel Bourez (PYF) – $2,950
Nike 6.0 Pro Junior
1. Kai Barger (HAW)
2. Tonino Benson (HAW)
3. Dillon Perillo (USA)
4. Nat Young (USA)
Hometown Kid Had HB In His Corner
Huge crowds had amassed on the Huntington Beach Pier as well as the grandstands and the sand south of the pier by noon, and it was hard to confuse whose corner they were in when they would explode in cheers any time the announcers said Simpson's name. "When you're riding on the ski in front of the crowd and you hear the applause it definitely pumps you up," Simpson said after the final. "Every time I was feeling a bit tired, the energy level of the crowd would lift me right up. It's unbelievable to have all the support and my family and friends here with me. This is the best day of my life."
A Full Day
Vets of the Open agree that this year's incarnation was the most exciting and well run in years, if not decades. From when the horn blew to start the men's quarterfinals promptly at 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning, until Simpson raised the oversized $100,000 check over his head on the winners' podium around 1:30 p.m., Sunday was a whirlwind of finals. After the men's quarters (in which Mr. Saturday, Kelly Slater was beaten by Brazil's new superstar Adriano De Souza) and semifinals, CJ Hobgood boosted a frontside air of epic proportions to win the WPS All-Star Tow-in Expression Session. Hobgood had just lost to Brett Simpson in Semifinal #1, but that didn't deter the 2001 ASP World Champ from redeeming himself. "I'm so stoked it all came together for this event," Hobgood told a huge throng on the sand. "All the people and the waves were great. I'm bummed I missed out on the Final, but I had a great week so I'm happy I came here."
The tow session was followed immediately by the Corona Noseriding Invitational—an all-star noseriding competition featuring world-class longboarders like CJ Nelson, Kevin Connnely, Christian Wach, Harrison Roach, Alex Knost, Tyler Warren, and Christian and Herbie Fletcher. There wasn't even time to grab a shave ice to save you from the brutal summer heat before the Nike 6.0 Pro Junior finalists Dillon Perillo, Kai Barger, Nat Young, and Tonino Benson paddled out to contest the two-star final. Barger took top honors in a year that's really seen him leap to the forefront of young professional surfing. "I don't really go out into heats thinking about what I need or what I want to accomplish," said the 18-year-old Hawaiian. "I go out to win. That's what I did out there today and I'm having a great year!"
After the Junior Pro final, the fearless cast of the Life Rolls on "They Will Surf Again" Expression Session, starring Jesse Billauer, paddled out in solid overhead surf and thrilled the crowd with a display of courage and the power of the mind to overcome the limitations of the body. Billauer, a victim of a spinal cord injury that has yet to end his surfing career, is a regular highlight of the US Open, and will surf waves that would make an intermediate surfer with full use of his four limbs reconsider paddling out, Jesse gave another stellar performance.
Simpson Takes Another Step Closer To The 2010 World Tour
Simpson's win boosts the American to fifth in the 2009 WQS Ratings, and confirms the likelihood that Huntington will see even less of their new favorite son in 2010; odds are, he'll be traveling with the likes of Slater, Fanning, and Parkinson on the Dream Tour come February of next year. With 11,863 WQS ratings points, Simpson now trails Dan Ross (13,600 points), Jadson Andre (13,350 points), Adam Melling (12,051 points), and is only 100 points behind Australia's Owen Wright (11,963 points). There are still nine six-star WQS events left on the 2009 schedule, but Simpson will feel confident in his current form, and with a few more wins, he seems a shoe in for the Top 45 in 2010.