“Rhythm plays a big part in the surfing game,” said the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing announcer, a reflective wistfulness darkening his ever-spritely tone. The waves had calmed to a soft lull, lake-like and placid. “That’s the flow of the ocean,” he continued. “Some days you got it, some days it’s tough.”
Maybe he was talking about himself and bygone surfing days, maybe it was a message meant for us, hundreds of frothing fans listening from the crowed shoreline of an umbrella-speckled Huntington Beach. Or maybe, he was sending off a warning to the impatient surfers, boards balancing on too-glassy water, waiting.
It was day 2 of 9 in the famed U.S. Open competition, one of North America’s largest and most significant surf events. Each year, an estimated 100,000 people make their way to Surf City, collecting in bathing suit-clad clumps along the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier. They watch, they applaud as the best of the best etch their boards into a canvas made from Pacific Ocean and temperamental winds. Sometimes the waves play along but today the swell was described by announcers as “fair to good,” also “uncooperative” and “weird.”
“The ocean is lumpy,” the announcer explained at one point after an exasperated competitor dropped in—and out—of a wave. Now the tide was receding, the wind whipping the water to tiny peaks, the waves weren’t reforming into the sleek green wall surfers yearn to ride, he said. Yet, the show must go on. There were points to be had, a competition to win.
On Saturday, for the opening rounds of the World Surf League Men’s Pro Junior event, Surfline characterized the swell as “modest to fun.” The underwhelming rating didn’t phase competitors, like Crosby Colapinto of San Clemente, CA, who scored a 16.50 (out of a possible 20) for the Men’s Pro Junior Surf in the final heat of Round 2.
“It felt pretty good to get that win,” Colapinto said. “Surfing the U.S. Open is crazy because you have all the fans on the beach and everybody is here watching.”
The complexion of the water turned out to be three-to-five-foot waves on Sunday as surfers battled it out in the Men’s Surf Qualifying Series (QS) Trials. It was still a mercurial swell, with a few heats starved of any good waves at all. Matthew McGillivray, a competitor from Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, navigated the fickle terrain to earn the top spot in the trials, and won a wild card ticket into the World Surf League Men’s QS 10,000 event.
“I am excited to be able to surf another heat tomorrow,” McGillivray said. “I plan to take it one heat at a time, try to surf the waves as they are and make a couple more heats.”
His message seemed to echo the upbeat, good-vibes-only theme of the competition’s first two days: Don’t question what the ocean delivers, ride what’s in front of you and when you take to the water next, do the same thing again.