You know you've made it when the Good Year blimp shows up. The Nike U.S. Open of Surfing is a spectacle like no other. More than half a million people have poured through Surf City this week -- the same number attended Woodstock in 1969. And judging by MGMT's outfits on the soundstage and all the freaks wandering around, dazed, smelling bad and wearing nothing, not much has changed.
Actually a lot's changed, all these people are here for a frickin' surf contest ... sort of. Somewhere between all of the four-wheeled Coastal Carnage and shrieking banks, maybe a little lost behind the Hurley 4D brand experience and Red Bull Energy Station, there's some very 21st century surfing going on.
The quarterfinal matchups were decided in playful three- to four-foot peaks this morning, and lets put it like this, you couldn't have drawn them up any better:
Quarterfinal 1: Dusty Payne vs. Tanner Gudauskas
A result at the Open keeps Payne on tour, a result for Gudauskas may get him back on tour. To a point, both 20-somethings' competitive careers hang in the balance. But they know that, just look at how they've been surfing. They've been dominating. Gudauskas bested Slater the other day, and Payne's won every heat he's surfed thus far. All told, not a bad opening act for the day.
Quarterfinal 2: Kelly Slater vs. Taj Burrow
This is a world tour final. Both Slater and Burrow have been at the top of their game all week. Maybe Slater's looking at this as a possible $100,000 swan song, maybe it's just the competitor in him coming out, but his surfing has been as sharp as ever. And for Burrow, this is a chance to prove he's still relevant. As the youth brigade has come crashing through the gates, all of a sudden the West Australian is the elder classman. Put it like this way, Evan Geiselman was four years old during Burrow's rookie year. Nevertheless, even if the swell drops out and this turns into a shorebreak shootout, it'll be good.
Quarterfinal 3: Dane Reynolds vs. Kolohe Andino
This is like Darth Vader against Luke Skywalker, or Bruce Lee versus Chuck Norris. The two California sensations have already met twice in this event. Reynolds has got him both times, and Andino had a full day of surfing today -- facing off against John Florence three times (winning two). The 17-year-old will probably bounce back, and fatigue probably won't be an issue, but you never know. If the waves are small and it's all about sticking something big on the inside Andino may have the advantage. But then we're talking about Dane Reynolds, anything's possible -- and he certainly seems unhindered by injury.
Quarterfinal 4: Yadin Nicol vs. Royden Bryson
Will Nicol finally qualify for the world tour, or will he forever be labeled a free surfer? He's been barreling through heats, it's win-at-all-cost time now. Then there's Bryson, sponsorless, on his own, a dark horse from South Africa. In an event ripe with stars he brings the "Who?" factor. He probably doesn't have what it takes to win, but what a coup d'état if he could pull it off.
Meanwhile, amongst the pro junior ranks, the daughter of the man that invented the Egg McMuffin, Santa Barbara's Lakey Peterson, won the women's pro junior. A Nike team rider, she met up with fellow swooshers Malia Manuel, Laura Enever and Coco Ho in the final.
"We're all really close friends and we were having a good time. Enjoying the weather and the waves, having a great time," told Peterson. "I was looking at that trophy before I went out, and thinking, 'Oooo, I want that!' Great job to all the girls, they're amazing surfers and I look up to them so much. I'm so excited. Next I got Carissa Moore in the semis of the main event tomorrow, I'm looking forward to it."
And on the men's pro junior side, with Andino, Florence, and Conner Coffin on the bill there was little room for unknown Brazilian Felipe Toledo. But in a move that spawned hundreds of utterances of "Holy Toledo!" the 16-year-old upstart took down America's poster children.
"It's unbelievable!" he smiled, struggling to find the right words in English. "Thanks to Brazil, my family, my sponsor Nike. It's so good. I'm so, so stoked right now."
This beast of a surf contest ends tomorrow. You now know the matchups, we'll see you when the dusty and spray settle. "I'd like to say thanks a lot everyone, it's a beautiful day," said Andino, signing off from the awards stage.
Nike US Open of Surfing Round of 12 Results:
Heat 1: Tanner Gudauskas (USA) 12.00 def. Richard Christie (NZL) 9.26
Heat 2: Taj Burrow (AUS) 11.10 def. Evan Geiselman (USA) 10.90
Heat 3: Kolohe Andino (USA) 16.10 def. John John Florence (HAW) 12.17
Women's Nike US Open of Surfing Quarterfinals Results:
QF 1: Lakey Peterson (USA) 13.80 def. Laura Enever (AUS) 10.24
QF 2: Carissa Moore (HAW) 16.53 def. Rebecca Woods (AUS) 8.17
QF 3: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 10.83 def. Rebecca Woods (AUS) 8.17
QF 4: Coco Ho (HAW) 11.20 def. Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 10.37
Nike US Open of Surfing Pro Junior Men's Final Result:
1. Filipe Toledo (BRA) 15.17
2. Kolohe Andino (USA) 13.96
3. John John Florence (HAW) 13.47
4. Conner Coffin (USA) 11.44
Nike US Open Pro Junior Men's Semifinals Results:
SF 1: Conner Coffin (USA) 16.23, Filipe Toledo (BRA) 14.46, Tanner Hendrickson (HAW) 13.44, Keanu Asing (HAW) 11.57
SF 2: John John Florence (HAW) 16.10, Kolohe Andino (USA) 14.16, Dylan Goodale (HAW) 12.13, Colin Moran (USA) 7.70
Nike US Open Pro Junior Women's Final Result:
1. Lakey Peterson (USA) 16.07
2. Malia Manuel (HAW) 12.67
3. Laura Enever (AUS) 12.36
4. Coco Ho (HAW) 3.66