Sage Erickson, Yago Dora Win The US (Not Quite) Open Of (Small Wave) Surfing
The boy soars, the lady sparkles.
It takes a lot of long days and early nights in Huntington to make it to the finals at the Vans U.S. Open. But Sage Erickson and Yago Dora handled their business.
This year’s contest marked the first-ever women’s QS 10,000. Equal prize money, equal points. It’s not just a press release talking point, it’s a real game-changer for the ladies. The women’s Qualifying Series is now able to better support the talent that’s waiting in the wings around the world.
For Sage, this win keeps the dream alive. She’s not officially on the Women’s CT at the moment, though she has gotten a few wildcards. But by beating Courtney Conlongue and taking home 10,000 qualifying points she puts herself in prime position to rejoin the tour full-time next year as she hops up to second on the QS leaderboard.
“I know you’d be proud,” said Sage, dedicating the win to her late grandmother. “The points and money and stuff might set in tomorrow.”
With her family, girlfriends, coach Tom Whitaker, and Nathaniel Curran—a former U.S. Open champ and Channel Islands team manager—in her corner, Sage’s performance was effervescent and calm. Her boards were dialed. Her demeanor beatific.
Courtney, on the other hand, is a frother. The thought of winning back-to-back Opens at her homebreak had been fueling her fire all week. But with that comes pressure. It’s hard to block out the noise, and by the time the final rolled around, Sage appeared to be in a more comfortable place. In the final minutes, Courtney was launching desperation airs and nipping at Sage’s heels in the lineup.
She never fully connected.
“This moment’s the best feeling. Thank you, California,” was Erickson’s sign-off.
For the men, Yago stole the show on finals day. The cat-like agility, the nuanced technicality, the mellow mood, the well-manicured facial hair. While a different brand of surfing, the style and flow had, dare we say, Curren-esque undertones?
Dora started the morning with a freaky, anti-gravitational spin that he somehow landed. Then came the clampdown for Alex Ribeiro in the semis. Despite Alex lofting a dramatic Hail Mary, no-grab rotation in the dying seconds, Yago rolled on.
After the Yago/Alex fireworks, high tide swamped the lineup. Griffin Colapinto and Liam O’Brien were forced into a restart. Last year’s runner-up and local favorite dropped anchor for over 20 minutes and sat. Meanwhile, the relative unknown from Burleigh Heads got busy and put Griff in a corner. To be fair, for 40 minutes nary a set wave broke, but Liam properly beat Griff…and in doing so sits tenth on the QS and properly put his name on the map.
A funny anecdote from that heat: the commentators at the time, Ross Williams and Chris Coté, bet a coffee on who would win. Ross was quick to clarify that he meant the losing commentator would have to fetch the winner a free coffee from the commentator’s lounge, not a for-purchase one from down the street.
In order to understand the relevance of this moment, we have to go back to 2013, when at the Quik Pro France, Joel Parkinson had a close heat against the local wildcard Marc Lacomare. That match came down to the final scores, which led to the following refrain between the (then) ASP commentators, Damien ‘Dooma’ Fahrenfort and Jake ‘The Snake’ Paterson.
Jake: “I don’t know. I’m going to leave it up to the professionals. That’s what they get paid for…”
Dooma: “Let’s leave to up to the judges. It’s going to be a crazy finish.”
Jake: “[Bet a] Beer on it?”
Dooma: “I don’t know. I have a feeling they’ll give it to Joel.”
Jake: “World title points?”
This back-and-forth led to Dooma and Snake being permanently banned from ASP/WSL commentating, with then-and-current Tour Commissioner Renato Hickel writing in an email to Quiksilver (remember the time when brands ran the webcasts?), stating:
“To have Web Announcers betting beers, guessing judges scores in almost every single wave, and telling thousands of web viewers that Joel would receive World Title bonus points, is completely unacceptable! A stain on a great Webcast.”
Now you can understand the caution with which Ross approached today’s beverage-betting. With JJF injured again, this whole commentary gig has become an important source of income for the Williams clan!
But back to Liam O’Brien. The kid is a machine. There was no sign of nerves or excitement throughout his entire competition run. It didn’t look like his pulse even changed. His board was like a scalpel through frog liver. And much like Griff and other Billabong proteges, Rainos Hayes has been “imperative” to his success. It will be interesting to see if Liam’s story plays out like Ethan Ewing, who finished second at the Open in 2016 and qualified for the CT the next year.
For Liam, the dream run ended in the final when Yago shifted into overdrive and let it all hang out in the final. There really never was much question. Yago stormed the U.S. Open this year and did it with a ton of humility and class.
“I don’t even know what to say,” said Dora, looking a lot like Carlos Santana circa ’67. “I had a good feeling about today and I had all the signs.”
The signs were certainly in alignment for Yago. He never bobbled or hiccuped. He stayed under the radar of the U.S. Open hype machine until the very end. He remained in tune with the ever-changing conditions.
“I felt very confident after the quarterfinal heat. I’m beyond stoked right now,” he smiled before being engulfed by friends and family.
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