After receiving heavy criticism for missing the Billabong Pro in J-Bay, Kelly Slater used surfing's biggest stage to remind us all why he's earned the right to do, well, whatever he chooses. Slater's victory in front of a record crowd at Huntington Beach was his second US Open victory--his previous victory being way back in 1996.
While the majority of his heats, including the final, were won in convincing fashion, only Taj Burrow and Dusty Payne made Slater work for the silverware on the final day. Burrow and Slater's Quarterfinal match-up saw the two go back and forth exchanging scores on multiple barrel rides. In the end, Slater's rides were deemed to be .23 of a point better than Burrows’.
As the large crowd began to unwind following the Slater vs. Burrow battle, Slater and Dusty Payne immediately put the beach back into a frenzy. Dusty held the lead for the majority of the semifinal, but with less than 10 minutes remaining and needing a significant score to take the lead, Slater launched a giant backside 360-air that earned a 9.77--the highest single wave score of the event.
"I think Dusty wanted to kill me after that heat," said Slater in a post-heat speech. He also praised the Payne's progressive surfing repertoire: "Dusty rips, and he does some of the craziest moves in the world, like big upside down air-reverses, and when I got on tour that’s where I dreamed surfing would be--and it’s cool to still be here doing this."
Following Slater's win over Payne, 17-year-old San Clemente phenom Kolohe Andino sparred Australia's Yadin Nicol in a close semifinal heat that came down to Andino's final wave. Needing a 6.95 to overtake Nicol, Andino took his game to the air on a lined up inside wall and milked the wave for all it was worth, but still fell agonizingly short--receiving a 6.37.
Unfortunately for Yadin Nicol and the thousands of fans watching, the final was a decidedly more one-sided affair. Within minutes of the buzzer, Slater earned an 8.5 for a big frontside air-reverse and for several turns to the beach. Then on Slater's third wave, and with 20 minutes still remaining, he got his second scoring wave--putting Nicol in combo land and all but solidifying his victory. Nicol went almost the whole heat without a wave--posting his first score with under five minutes remaining.
"I told Yadin he was lucky it was a 35 minute heat," said a joking Slater in his victory speech. "No, but honestly when you’re that guy and you’re leading, you’re just hoping time runs out. And I was just getting really frustrated for Yadin, because he was sitting on the outside waiting for the bigger sets while I got the smaller ones."
Regardless, Nicol's second place finish will boost him up in the one world ranking's, making his qualification for the World Tour after the mid-year reseeding far more likely.
In the Women's Final, Sally Fitzgibbons had her work cut out for her against event Wildcard Lakey Peterson, who had just defeated 2011 World Champion Carissa Moore in her semifinal heat--putting an end to Moore's streak of six-straight final appearances. Peterson, who also won this year's Women's US Open Pro Junior event on Saturday, got off to a good start receiving a 5.33 on her first wave and keeping her within striking distance of Fitzgibbons, who opened with a 5.67.
Feeling the pressure of the crowd and seeking her third World Tour victory of the year, World No. 2 Sally Fitzgibbons put the pressure back on Peterson by dropping a 7.5 on her second wave. Finding herself in an unfamiliar position, Peterson could not threaten Fitzgibbons' combined score of a 14.23.
"I've always wanted to be champion and get carried up the beach here--it's just unbelievable," said Sally Fitzgibbons immediately following her final. "The waves here are challenging. You got small conditions, it's shorepound sometimes, so you just got to love it for what it is and that's what makes this trophy extra special."
Nike US Open of Surfing Men's Final Result:
1 - Kelly Slater (USA) 16.27
2 - Yadin Nicol (AUS) 2.40
Nike US Open of Surfing Men's Semifinals Results:
SF 1: Kelly Slater (USA) 17.94 def. Dusty Payne (HAW) 14.90
SF 2: Yadin Nicol (AUS) 13.44 def. Kolohe Andino (USA) 12.87
Nike US Open of Surfing Men's Quarterfinals Results:
QF 1: Dusty Payne (HAW) 13.93 def. Tanner Gudauskas (USA) 10.10
QF 2: Kelly Slater (USA) 15.50 def. Taj Burrow (AUS) 15.27
QF 3: Kolohe Andino (USA) 10.44 def. Dane Reynolds (USA) 10.33
QF 4: Yadin Nicol (AUS) 11.60 def. Royden Bryson (ZAF) 8.26
Nike US Open of Surfing Women's Final Result:
1 - Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 14.23
2 - Lakey Peterson (USA) 12.40
Nike US Open of Surfing Women's Semifinals Results:
SF 1: Lakey Peterson (USA) 14.67 def. Carissa Moore (HAW) 14.60
SF 2: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 14.46 def. Coco Ho (HAW) 14.16