Tati, Malia top US Open field

Four years from now, surfing will be an official Olympic sport as the 2020 Games in Tokyo will feature both men’s and women’s events. I’m sure the Brazilians are a little salty they’re missing out on handing out surf medals by only four years, but it will certainly be a spectacular scene in Japan as the world’s best get to charge for Olympic glory.

The interesting thing about surfing as an Olympic sport is that, like tennis, it won’t differ much from competitions throughout the rest of the tour season. The makeup of the draw will vary slightly as more countries are represented, but the final stages will likely be very similar to finals day at a world tour event and many familiar faces will clash with one another.

One of the most interesting wrinkles will be who actually gets to represent their country. Just 20 men and 20 women will ultimately vie for a medal, so the spots are precious. Some participants we barely know right now could emerge as favorites over the next few years.

But the biggest difference for our purposes is that Hawaii and the USA will be one and the same. Hawaii’s crew of surfers are currently identified as such and proudly display the Hawaiian flag, not the stars and stripes next to their names. That will change as Carissa Moore and Courtney Conlogue, John John Florence and Kelly Slater could all suddenly be members of the same team.

(Sure, Slater will be 48 years old in 2020 and may have no desire to be anywhere near Tokyo. But it feels like he should somehow be involved in surfing’s inaugural Olympic appearance, right?)

Yet every tour event already feels like a global contest, which made Kauai the center of the known universe at last week’s U.S. Open of Surfing. The best wahine in the world work as hard as they can to even sniff the world tour for a chance at a Championship Tour victory. That global talent pool narrowed to just two women last weekend and, against all odds, both emerged from this small island.

In one of the most extraordinary scenarios imaginable, Malia Manuel and Tatiana Weston-Webb reached the final in Huntington Beach. Each was eyeing her first CT victory, but just creating this particular scenario was a historic accomplishment for both. It may not be as unthinkable as Venus and Serena Williams coming from the same living room to face each other in four straight Grand Slam finals, but it’s still mind-boggling. Only 17 women on the planet get to surf on the CT. Two come from Kauai and they faced off in the U.S. Open final.

Amazing.

Tati put together the better 35-minute session and earned the win in just her second full-time CT season. She moves up to fourth on the season and is hot on Moore’s third-place heels.

Manuel remains in eighth place, but she’s moved up into a crowded section with Sally Fitzgibbons, Johanne Defay and Stephanie Gilmore all separated by just over 3,000 points. Manuel now has a much healthier cushion over ninth place, so the runner-up result should keep her comfortably in the top 10 the rest of the way.

I couldn’t help but smile watching Tati enjoy her breakthrough victory as she was chaired up the beach to hug her mom. It’s likely the first of many, but her exuberance was heartfelt and genuine.

At the same time, I was disappointed for Malia, who has been so consistent on both the CT and Qualifying Series. Finals are hard to come by given the depth and talent on the women’s tour, but hopefully getting so close feels like a stepping stone rather than a setback.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see both of these women in Tokyo four years from now. Think of the party we’d throw if this result were somehow duplicated on an Olympic podium.

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

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