Fully engaged: Seabass, Tati, Malia hit finals day at US Open

Champions will be crowned today in Huntington Beach as Malia Manuel, Tatiana Weston-Webb and Sebastian Zietz are all still alive for finals day at the US Open of Surfing.

The women’s event, which is a Championship Tour contest, sees a few familiar faces absent from the final eight. First, Keely Andrew pulled off a stunner against defending champion Johanne Defay in round two. Andrew then went on to top three-time world champ Carissa Moore in the fourth round, which came shortly after Sage Erickson knocked out Sally Fitzgibbons. Moore, Defay and Fitzgibbons are currently ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively, on the CT rankings. For none of them to reach the quarters is quite the anomaly.

But it opens the door for Manuel, Tati and others to gain a bit of ground. Weston-Webb will have her hands full as she takes on current points leader Courtney Conlogue. This will be the fourth time this season these two have gone head-to-head and the first three matchups have all gone in Conlogue’s favor. But Tati has already had the overall high heat score in two of three rounds she’s surfed, so she’s been performing as well as anyone to this point.

Manuel takes on six-time world champ Steph Gilmore in a heat I’m sure Malia has been looking forward to for a few months. The last time these two went head-to-head was earlier this season at Bells Beach. That heat ended with Gilmore earning the necessary score late to pick up the second-round win. I use the word “earning” loosely when it comes to this result, because the judges seemed to be seeing something very different than I did.

Manuel showed her frustration at that decision and has a chance at some course correction today. She should be in a good head space to do just that. Manuel is coming off a runner-up finish last weekend at the Supergirl Pro and she just achieved a clutch fourth-round win over Coco Ho, to whom she just lost that final heat in Oceanside.

If the waves cooperate, the Manuel-Gilmore matchup could be the heat of the day.

The upsets have made this a very tough result to predict, but I think Conlogue, a California native, wins her second event of the season to keep the gold jersey for now.

In the men’s Qualifying Series event, it should be all gravy for Seabass from here on out. Sure he’d like to keep going as the monster field of 112 competitors has narrowed to just eight. Sure he could use a signature QS result to propel up the rankings in case his CT results begin to diminish. Sure the $40,000 for first place would be some nice coin in his pocket.

But Zietz got engaged to his girlfriend Friday, proposing on the Huntington Beach pier with a plane popping the question overhead. The couple met at the US Open four years ago, so it’s only fitting they enjoyed their latest monumental moment in the same place.

He won’t be feeling any pressure moving forward, which is good because he faces defending CT world champion Adriano de Souza in the quarterfinals. The pair may be considered the two favorites left in the draw, although Filipe Toledo and Michel Bourez face off in another quarterfinal heat.

It would certainly be fun to see Seabass and Bourez go against each other in the final. They have a unique competitive history, including the infamous interference at the horn during last year’s Hurley Pro. Zietz has never beaten Bourez, so today would be an optimal time to do so while he’s riding high.

Ryan Callinan, Ethan Ewing, Kanoa Igarashi and Bino Lopes are also still in the mix. While I’d love to see Seabass bring the U.S. title home to Kauai, I think Toledo ultimately walks away with the crown.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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