Alejo Muniz of Brazil put in a dominating performance to beat California's Kolohe Andino to win the 2013 Vans U.S. Open of Surfing and its $100,000 first place prize. On a cloudy, 3-foot day in Huntington Beach, Calif., with the Pacific Ocean reluctant to give waves up, making the final was a demonstration of brinksmanship combined with new-age progressive surfing. For Muniz, it was an opportunity to break through to the next level.
"Man, I'm so happy. I can't believe this. Today is four years when my grandfather passed away, two weeks ago my grandmother passed away. I dedicate this win to them," Muniz said with tears in his eyes. "I know they send all of the waves to me this last heat. I know they were up there helping me."
Muniz needed a good result at the Open to keep his world tour career going, but he was up against Andino, who surfed tack sharp all week long. The consolation prize for the runner-up finish is a good chance to get into a nice rhythm and tone as he gears up for a strong second half of the ASP World Tour.
"I love his passion, I love his effort," Andino said of Muniz. "He's a great friend. I wish I would have gotten another opportunity, but it's been a great week."
The final day of the Open got underway at 8 a.m. sharp with drizzly, low-tide conditions greeting the early-morning quarterfinals. Andino was matched up against Brazil's Adriano De Souza, who's the fiercest of competitors. But Andino obviously ate his Wheaties. He came out throwing big-air reverses and tail releases, leaving De Souza in his wake.
"I was super nervous, last time we surfed he smoked me, put on a clinic, so I really wanted to come back strong," Andino said. "I don't know what he's been doing, but I feel like I've been more on it than anyone. I think the judges want to see a crazy air on a big wave or clean surfing toward the pier, so that's what I've been focusing on."
With seven of the eight quarterfinalists being stars on the ASP World Tour, judging small-wave surfing of this caliber isn't an easy ask. There are a lot of technical aspects that come into consideration, but basically the panel of five judges base their scores on a criteria of speed, power, flow, variety and the criticalness of every maneuver.
Few understand and utilize this formula as well as Australian Bede Durbidge, who has proved to be one of the steadiest, most consistent surfers on tour over the past 10 years. Durbidge rolled on Michel Bourez in the quarters. But in the semifinals the explosiveness of Andino undid Durbidge's slow-is-pro approach.
"I've been free surfing out here with him every morning," Durbidge said about Andino. "He's one of the best guys coming through, he'll be going for a title once he gets a little more experience under his belt."
On the other side of the draw Aussie upstart Matt Banting, who came into the Open rated 92nd in the world, somehow snuck by Jordy Smith. Most had picked Smith to win the contest, and Banting was probably among that group.
"I've dreamt about it my whole life," said Banting, who made no secret about being a huge fan of Smith. "I'm stoked. I'm so happy right now. To come out of that heat and beat Jordy, whatever else happens is a bonus."
It's probably a good thing Banting felt that way, because when he drew Muniz in the semis he was unable to keep the momentum going. The experience of Muniz, who'd slipped past Santa Cruz goofy-footer Nat Young in the quarters, proved to be too much for the up-and-comer.
"When you're in the semis, all you're thinking about is the final. There's a lot of nerves," Muniz said. "It's my first final here, I'm stoked. The crowd is crazy, you have to find a way to just think about yourself."
Over the course of the week it's estimated that more than half a million people hit the sand in Huntington Beach, but for Muniz it was all about two people, his grandmother and grandfather who were watching over him from above.
"It's a special moment for me, it's emotional," he noted from the awards stage.