With its iconic pier and backdrop, Huntington Beach has certainly become one of America’s most recognizable surfing landmarks. It’s also a welcoming sight for Malia Manuel, who made a name for herself at just 14 years old by winning the U.S. Open of Surfing back in 2008.
Eight years later, Manuel is a Championship Tour regular and looking to pick up some more rankings points with a solid result at this week’s U.S. Open.
It’s been a good summer for Manuel, who came away with a runner-up finish Sunday at the Supergirl Pro in Oceanside, Calif. That result propelled her to No. 1 in the Qualifying Series rankings, where Manuel has consistently proven to be one of the most accomplished women’s QS surfers of all time. It appears she’ll again finish within the QS top-six cutoff for the fifth time in six years — the only time she didn’t was 2014 when she was fifth on the CT and not within range of needing the QS fallback.
Moving over from Oceanside to Huntington Beach minimizes and strengthens the field. Manuel began her event in style, winning the first heat of round one against Sally Fitzgibbons and Keely Andrew. Manuel had to battle back after Fitzgibbons put up her two top scores within the heat’s first five minutes. But after getting back in range, Malia hopped on her backhand towards the pier and scorched the first turn. The wave quickly went flat but she continued to squeeze all she could from it and earned the necessary 6.37 to jump in front.
The win moved Manuel directly to round three, where she’ll now go up against Andrew and Tyler Wright in another non-elimination heat.
Tatiana Weston-Webb came out firing in her opening heat, earning the top two-wave total of round one (15.20) with a win over Alessa Quizon and Stephanie Gilmore. Tati is coming off the only second-round loss of her CT career. Her exit at the Fiji Pro snapped a string of 17 straight world tour events where she reached at least round three.
But she’s back on the right track at Huntington Beach, where she’ll now take on Fitzgibbons and Lakey Peterson, who is surfing her first event of 2016 after overcoming injury woes.
The major upset of the contest may have already taken place with Andrew eliminating defending U.S. Open champion Johanne Defay in the second round. Not only was Defay the 2015 contest winner, she’s coming off a title at the tour’s most recent stop in Fiji. It’s actually the first head-to-head heat win of Andrew’s young career and will make this a memorable result, no matter how far she goes from here.
On the men’s side, 112 surfers began in this QS 10,000 contest, which will continue its second round when action resumes today. Plenty of CT surfers entered the fray including Jordy Smith, Julian Wilson, Caio Ibelli, Josh Kerr, Jeremy Flores, Nat Young, Kolohe Andino and Sebastian Zietz.
Seabass earned himself a spot in round three by surviving along with Mitch Crews against Ibelli and Victor Bernardo. He’s got another tough foursome to come with Stu Kennedy, Jesse Mendes and Charles Martin.
Currently 10th on the CT rankings, Zietz seems to be doing all he can on both tours to assure himself a permanent spot for 2017. He’s still seeking his first major QS result of the year, but hopefully that won’t be a necessity.
Other Hawaii surfers already into round three include Keanu Asing, Granger Larsen, Kiron Jabour and Torrey Meister.
Just one deep run at a huge contest like this one can send a QS competitor into real contention, just as it did last year for Maui’s Tanner Hendrickson. He finished second at the U.S. Open and shot up close to the top 10.
The points are there for the taking and hopefully the waves will be up to the task for all the men and women as we crown a pair of U.S. champs.