Kelly Slater's won the U.S. Open twice. First in 1996, then again 15 years later in 2011. His name will not be etched onto this year's trophy.
An early-morning heat, warbly Huntington dribble, a savvy Tahitian and a few uncharacteristic bobbles by the 11-time world champ and that was it. Going up against Michel Bourez, who's developing a reputation for having Slater's card, the low-scoring heat went back and forth. In the final minute Slater only needed a 5.43 to overtake Bourez. He got his chance on a waist-high left when Bourez, who had priority, let him go. Slater and his 5'6" quad made the most of it, accenting the end with a reverse on the inside, but ultimately the effort came up a point short of getting the score. It would prove to be the lowest scoring heat of the day.
"I saw Kelly from behind on that last wave and he did five or six turns and the wave was really tiny. I heard the crowd cheer and thought maybe I made a mistake," said Bourez.
Even with two career victories at the U.S. Open, the south side of the Huntington pier still seems to baffle Slater. Sunset Beach in Hawaii has a similar effect on him. Winning's never come easy for him at either spot. There are breaks around the world where he's gone next-level -- Trestles, Cloudbreak, J-Bay, Teahupoo -- but Huntington is not one such locale. Blame it on the scattered, undependable peakiness of the place. Blame it on the fact that he couldn't seem to find the right board all week. Or that it's just an ASP PRIME and there are no world title points on the line. Whatever it is, Slater's time in Surf City has come to a close.
Meanwhile, there's a serious youth movement blowing up down at the pier. Heading into the Round of 16 tomorrow, Kolohe Andino and defending Open champ Julian Wilson will go at it in the most anticipated heat of the round. Andino got the best of Wilson earlier in the event. Both are expected to come out swinging and spinning. With a bump in the south swell headed this way, they'll hopefully have the opportunity to put their best foot forward.
"Surfing against a guy like Alex is always dangerous because he didn't have much to lose. It's nice to build some momentum after a close loss yesterday," said Wilson after handling Brazilian Alex Ribeiro in the Round of 24.
Granger Larsen and Mitch Crews, who are both long overdue for a breakout result, have been surfing with a lot of energy. Larsen has his work cut out for him, facing an equally young and equally energetic Matt Banting. Crews will go up against world tour vet and fellow Hurley team rider Alejo Muniz. And then there's Nat Young, who's quietly been handling his business.
"I definitely favor my backhand and the rights are better today," said Young. "They are bowly and are bending towards the beach. I wanted to get scores on the board on my backhand and then I was able to just surf and have fun."
Heading into the final weekend of the U.S. Open, the field's wide open. Any one of these 20-somethings could catch fire. A random like Spain's Hodei Collazo or France's Vincent Duvignac could steal the show. And while Slater's out, there's plenty of world tour talent left in the draw. The smart money might be on Jordy Smith, but Bede Durbidge, Ace Buchan and Bourez have all been steady. And lest we forget Adriano De Souza, he'd love nothing more than to pump his fists in Surf City.
The final is scheduled to hit the water about 1:00 on Sunday afternoon.
VANS US OPEN OF SURFING WOMEN'S ROUND 4 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Laura Enever (AUS) 12.46 def. Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 11.23
Heat 2: Bianca Buitendag (ZAF) 12.54 def. Silvana Lima (BRA) 11.10
Heat 3: Carissa Moore (HAW) 14.74 def. Lakey Peterson (USA) 13.87
Heat 4: Pauline Ado (FRA) 14.50 def. Alana Blanchard (HAW) 11.93
VANS US OPEN OF SURFING WOMEN'S QUARTERFINALS MATCH UPS:
Heat 1: Courtney Conlogue (USA) vs. Laura Enever (AUS)
Heat 2: Tyler Wright (AUS) vs. Bianca Buitendag (ZAF)
Heat 3: Coco Ho (HAW) vs. Carissa Moore (HAW)
Heat 4: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) vs. Pauline Ado (FRA)
VANS US OPEN OF SURFING ROUND OF 24 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Jadson Andre (BRA) 15.00 def. Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 8.00
Heat 2: Julian Wilson (AUS) 15.93 def. Alex Ribeiro (BRA) 8.86
Heat 3: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 12.10 def. Miguel Pupo (BRA) 6.17
Heat 4: Michel Bourez (PYF) 11.80 def. Kelly Slater (USA) 11.54
Heat 5: Hodei Collazo (EUK) 12.80 def. C.J. Hobgood (USA) 12.50
Heat 6: Matt Banting (AUS) 13.33 def. Ramzi Boukhiam (MAR) 11.43
Heat 7: Nat Young (USA) 15.16 def. Charles Martin (GLP) 11.40
Heat 8: Mitch Crews (AUS) 15.27 def. Beyrick De Vries (ZAF) 12.84
UPCOMING VANS US OPEN OF SURFING ROUND OF 16 MATCH UPS:
Heat 1: Adriano de Souza (BRA) vs. Jadson Andre (BRA)
Heat 2: Kolohe Andino (USA) vs. Julian Wilson (AUS)
Heat 3: Vincent Duvignac (FRA) vs. Bede Durbidge (AUS)
Heat 4: Adrian Buchan (AUS) vs. Michel Bourez (PYF)
Heat 5: Jordy Smith (ZAF) vs. Hodei Collazo (EUK)
Heat 6: Granger Larsen (HAW) vs. Matt Banting (AUS)
Heat 7: Marc Lacomare (FRA) vs. Nat Young (USA)
Heat 8: Alejo Muniz (BRA) vs. Mitch Crews (AUS)