Get A Bucket And A Mop: California Clean Up At The US Open Of Surfing 2021 - Stab Mag
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A Californian clean sweep. Cait Simmers and Griffin Colapinto are your US Open champions. Photo by Kenny Morris/WSL

Get A Bucket And A Mop: California Clean Up At The US Open Of Surfing 2021

Local knowledge pays off.

Words by Michael Ciaramella

Yesterday, something truly awful happened at the US Open. 

Investigators are still looking into the situation, but here’s what we know for now:

Around 3:15 pm, Huntington Beach police officers were called to confront a man with a gun. When they found the man, who was on the beach just 100 meters inland from the US Open scaffolding, they asked him to relinquish his weapon. The man then raised his gun (which was covered by a shirt) at the officers, so they opened fire. The first round of shots brought the man to the sand but did not fully incapacitate him. When he grabbed his gun again, the cops fired a second round of shots, which left the man motionless on the ground. He was later declared dead. 

According to the OC Register:

Local activists began to organize around Saturday’s shooting and were planning actions, calling for the officers involved to be held accountable, said Tory Johnson, founding member of Black Lives Matter-Huntington Beach.

“This is what we’re fighting. We’re fighting police aggression, whether they are Black, brown, purple,” Johnson said. “What we are saying is you can’t go around killing minorities, and you can’t treat people a certain way just because they look different from you, or they don’t fit the mold of an average citizen in our city.”

This was the WSL’s official response on Instagram:

Their caption reads: 

We are aware of the incident that occurred near the Huntington Beach event site after competition ended for the day. All athletes and staff are safe and accounted for. The event has been in touch with the Huntington Beach Police Dept. It was confirmed that this was an isolated incident and there is no ongoing threat. The safety of the WSL athletes, staff, and the local community is paramount, and the WSL will continue to monitor the situation.

This gray blanket lingered into Finals Day of the US Open, which opened under a dense layer of clouds. June gloom, all the way in late September.

At this stage in the event, we’ve whittled a field of 96 men and 64 women down to eight and four surfers respectively. 

For the men: Jake Marshall, Callum Robson, Nolan Rapoza, Kolohe Andino, Griffin Colapinto, Liam O’Brien, Kanoa Igarashi, and Lucas Silveria. 

For the women: Coco Ho, Gabriela Brayan, Courtney Conlogue, and Caity Simmers. 

Veterans and up-and-comers on both sides of the draw. Just what you’d expect from an event of this nature. 

The veteran Kolohe ‘Brother’ Andino was part of the Cali contingent on final’s day. He went down to Long Beach’s Nolan Rapoza. Photo by Kenny Morris/WSL.

As a brief reminder, the US Open is the first of four Challenger Series events that will determine this year’s Championship Tour qualifiers. There are more spots available in 2021 than in a typical QS season, with 12 for the men and six for the women (typically it’s 10 and five). All of which is to say, if you do well at the US Open, there’s a decent chance you’ll qualify for the 2022 CT. Huge stakes in dribbly chest-high surf. 

The first heat of the day was a fizzer. Slow waves, low scores. Local-ish young’n Jake Marshall got the dub over Callum Robson with a forgettable array of turns, hops, and floaters. I was upset about this only because it would be hilarious to see a Mad Hueys sticker on a CT surfer’s nose. 

Heat two was a Biblical affair. Kolohe Andino vs. Nolan Rapoza, a modern-day David and Goliath. Kolohe Andino is the crown prince of Californian surfing, CT veteran, and occasional wearer of white wetsuits. Nolan Rapoza is a long-haired, front-pad-applying, air-loving goofy. Prior to their quarterfinal, the two had gone 1-1 against one another in this year’s US Open.

With just one minute remaining before a heat restart, Nolan smartly scratched into a below-average left and kept the clock running. This shortened the heat to just 20 minutes and eliminated Andino’s skill advantage. It would now come down to who catches the best waves in this shortened window. 

In the first real exchange, Kolohe stomped a standard frontside reverse and finished it on the shorebreak. The crowd went wild, but not for Brother. Down by the pier, Nolan stomped a significantly bigger air on the left and locked in an 8 to Kolohe’s 5.83. Nolan would later explain that in his morning freesurf, one of his waves looked identical to the pier bowl he caught in his heat. Performing that same air in his warmup gave him the confidence to hit this section with full belief and ride away for the early lead. 

The rest of the heat flew by with very few waves to speak of. Nolan solidified his position with a mid-range backup, and Brother never got a chance to fight back. David def. Goliath 13.00 to 6.67. 

Nolan was the figurative David in his heat against Goliath, Brother Andino. We know how this story pans out. Photo by Kenny Morris/WSL

In the next heat, Griffin Colapinto started strong against Australia’s Liam O’Brien and never looked back. 

The best quarterfinal was certainly the last. Local boy and 2x US Open winner, Kanoa Igarashi, found himself in a precarious position after gifting Brazil’s Lucas Silveira priority for the best wave of the heat, a clean left that he leveraged into an eight. Needing a mid-seven to advance, Kanoa lined up a backhand section and clocked a clean rotation, connecting it to the inside for a lucky 7.77 and the heat win. Time and time again, this kid performs when he needs it most. He’s a true competitor. 

About halfway through the event, Stab CUSP co-host Stace Galbraith and I discussed our favorites on the women’s side of the event. He was loving Caity Simmers’ lackadaisical power and flow, and I couldn’t look past Coco Ho’s newfound spark. 

Coco recently turned 30 and is looking to regain her decade-long CT spot after falling off in 2019. Caity Simmers is half Coco’s age and currently en route to becoming one of the youngest ever CT qualifiers (Caroline Marks also qualified at 15). It’s incredible to see two females at opposite ends of their careers showing such focus and domination in marginal conditions. Having them in the final together would be a spectator’s delight. 

Unfortunately, this moment wouldn’t be realized as Coco failed to defeat fellow Hawaiian Gabriela Bryan in semifinal one.

Gabriela Bryan ousted Coco with powerful wraps in the Huntington bowl. She now leads the Challenger series on 13,000 points. Photo by Kenny Morris/WSL.

In semi two, Courtney Conlogue asserted her dominion by grabbing the first score of the heat, a low five. She then backed it up with a high-two.

Caity sat patiently out the back at minutes slid off the clock. Roughly halfway into the heat, Caity got to her feet for the first time on a big set left. She hit it twice out the back, laid down an uncommon carve in the mid-section, and slammed it shut for a clean 7-pointer. Incredible maturity from the 15-year-old.

Courtney came back with another low-five, putting pressure on Caity to back up her score. The teenager refused to move until she saw the wave she wanted. She was never going to surf for the three-pointer she required.

With five minutes left, Caity took off on the biggest wave of the heat. A complete closeout. She had one section to make it happen.

Only in need of a three, Caity could have safety-floated the closeout gotten the score. Instead, she went straight up and threw the fins out. The nerve! She rode away clean and finished it on the beach for a 7.83, all but comboing the CT veteran. Two waves were all Caity needed. Onto the final.

Lots of comparisons were made between Dane Reynolds and Caity Simmers on the broadcast – They were apt. Fast, unpredictable, exciting. Photo by Kenny Morris/WSL.

Of all the incredible international talent in this year’s US Open, the men’s semifinalists read like a 2013 NSSA Open Juniors final. Four Californians, all in their early 20s, all here to win…albeit for slightly different reasons.

The first semifinal saw two previously prominent surfers that have stalled in their professional ascent. Jake Marshall and Nolan Rapoza needed this result to alter the trajectory of their lives. A win here could position them to qualify for the 2022 Championship Tour.

The second semifinal saw two of surfing’s hottest young stars and former US Open finalists who are already well-established on the CT. Kanoa Igarashi and Griffin Colapinto are here mostly for fun, but they still desperately want to beat one another and everyone else in their path. The US Open holds a special place in their hearts. It’s a California pride thing.

The waves all but disappeared for Jake and Nolan’s heat. Jake was smart to take anything that broke and secured the early lead with a couple mid-fours. Needing two scores to advance, Nolan baited Jake into a closeout with six minutes remaining, granting the goofy-foot priority it a crucial moment. He quickly capitalized with a low-four of his own and scurried back to the lineup.

With two minutes remaining, Nolan took off on a chowdery left-hander. He did everything he could to stick a frontside rev, then started a heart-raising pump-off to the inside. At multiple points in his hop-fueled fury, I thought Nolan would sink, bog, or fall. But he kept those quads firing and somehow made the inside connection, banging one last turn that pushed his score over the edge. A late lead change!

With 45 seconds remaining, a beautiful right reared its head. Jake Marshall took off, banged it twice out the back and hammered a steep inside section. The judges’ decision was swift, a 5.77 and official buzzer-beater into the final. Rapoza’s heroic run was over. The Lot Trolls erupted on the beach.

In an overtly confident post-heat address, Marshall said: “When I get a chance at the end of a heat, I know I’m going to get the score.” He’ll need that positive mindset heating into the final.

The disparity between the first and second semifinalists was vast. Griffin and Kanoa were clearly on a different level. They’re faster, stronger, more nimble—basically better surfers in every appreciable way. You got the sense that whoever won this heat would the final easily. Considering Kanoa was only able to muster six points, that would be Griffin. A third US Open continues to elude the one-time HB local.

Caity Simmers opened the final much more quickly. A running left with two turns out the back and a forehand redirect on the shorey granted her a 6.33 and the early lead. Nineteen-year-old Gabriela Bryan answered back with a 5.67.

Caity’s 7.17 felt like a nail in the coffin. While Gabriela has a slight power advantage, Caity’s skill level is unmatched. She’s not the youngest ever to win the women’s US Open (that was Malia Manuel at 14), but she’s established herself as a genuine threat in women’s surfing. Keep in mind, Caity just competed as a Ladybird a few months back. Now she’s taking out the biggest QS events in the sport. A rapid but well-deserved ascent.

Lest we forget Gabriela Bryan, who now leads the women’s Challenger Series with 13,000 points to her name. A talented surfer with CT power, she’ll be a worthy addition to next year’s Tour, should she not completely stuff up the next three events.

Caity said she’s “not really trying to qualify” in her post-final interview. One has to wonder if she would accept a CT spot in 2022 if she earns it. On one hand, it’s a tough opportunity to pass up. On the other, she’s still extremely young and should be in no rush to abandon her childhood. Caity’s got decades ahead of her and will only continue to improve as she grows.

Cait Simmers grabbed a 7.17 and backed it up with a 6.73. Despite “not really trying to qualify” her 1st place here and 2nd place at the SLO CAL Open position her in second spot after the first CS event.

Then there’s Jake Marshall, who desperately wants to be on tour. Once a well-adorned child star, today Jake doesn’t have a single sticker on his Sharp Eye surfboard. While it may not seem like it on the surface, this is actually a power move. Jake could easily establish deals with a few lower-level brands if he wanted, but he has loftier ambitions for himself and is choosing not to sign a contract until the relationship reflects his desired position in the surfing world — which, naturally, is on the Championship Tour. He’d be damn close to achieving that goal with a win today.

Unfortunately for Jake, he had Griffin Colapinto in his path. While Griff’s already seen plenty of success on surfing’s largest stage (finishing 6th in the world in 2021), he was especially hungry to win the US Open because he hasn’t stood atop a podium since he was a junior. That ambition came to fruition today.

After an exchange that saw Griffin get a slightly higher seven than Jake (which probably should have gone the other way), Griffin’s confidence soared, allowing him to click multi-directional reverses on his winning ride, much to the liking of his orange-clad fans on the shoreline. Kolohe Andino, brother Crosby, Jett Schilling, and more from the ‘San Clemente Cyclone’, as Chris Cote dubbed them, met Griffin in chest-deep water to celebrate his victory.

As much grief as SC locals get for all their e-biking and fin-flicks, you gotta respect a community that supports their own.

US Open 2021, over and out.

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