US Open of Surfing delivers all the fun and all the action

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY
The annual US Open of Surfing descended upon Southern California once again, with over 100,000 spectators in attendance.

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — First held in 1959, the nine daylong event is regarded as the world’s largest surf competition. It takes place during the peak of summer in Huntington Beach, California.

Surfers from around the planet compete in the Challenger Series and Longboard Tour, earning qualification points for the World Surf League.

World Surf League/Pat Nolan
World Surf League/Pat Nolan

Hawaiians Dominate Longboard Classic

Kaniela Stewart showcased his trademark style and flow, finessing his board through the Pacific Ocean all week. The 22-year-old Oahu, HI native confidently won the men’s final, defeating last year’s winner Taylor Jensen. 

“It feels so good, being out here traveling the world doing contests. All the people getting to watch, I’m glad I give them something to do and stoked to enjoy the sun,” Stewart told The Sporting Tribune.  

How do you perfect your patent ‘Hang Ten’ style? “Just do it over and over pretty much, practice makes you better and never stop learning,” he shared.   

It was also a family affair for longboard riders. Stewart’s cousin, 18-year-old Kelis Kaleopaa from Waikiki took top honors, winning the women’s final.

A New Sensation Takes Out The Wise Veteran

Sally Fitzgibbons, the 32-year-old professional from New South Wales, Australia entered the final with a ton of momentum and fanfare. She previously won the event in 2011.

“That’s the best part of this event, the stacked heats are so competitive. The adrenaline is building up all week,” Fitzgibbons said. “This year the water is beautiful, the summer vibes are really high. The crowd and energy is back.”  

An early lead would not be enough to hold on. Sawyer Lindblad, a local from San Clemente, CA scored her best two waves in the closing minutes.  

One week shy of her 18th birthday, Lindblad won the Challenger Series women’s final. The crowd embraced her on the sand, riding atop their shoulders to the winner’s podium with chants of ‘U.S.A.’ 

“What I love most is surfing against the next generation,” Fitzgibbons detailed. We want to push for more spots (on tour) and everybody is doing their bit by surfing as good as they are.”

On the men’s side of the bracket, Eli Hanneman (Maui, HI) bested Crosby Colapinto in a one-sided affair. The 20-year-old proudly draped in a Hawaiian flag, became the newest men’s US Open champion.

805 Beer ‘Convergence’ Film Premiere

Earlier in the week, a special screening of Convergence had its world premiere at the U.S. Open of Surfing. The film follows pro surfers Conner Coffin and Nate Tyler, with pro surfer and skateboarder Greyson Fletcher exploring their journey of surfing, passion, and life. 

Coffin, who competed on the Championship Tour, spoke with The Sporting Tribune surrounding his latest endeavors. 

How long did filming the project last? 

We filmed for about 6 months! It was in different phases. I filmed some of my surfing around home in the winter time. Perry Gershkow and Dana Shaw came down and we filmed all of the diving and b-roll for the vignette, and then a couple of months later we all got together for the road trip. 

Favorite wave in California? Rincon. 

Are there athletes from other sports that inspire you? 

I honestly don’t watch a whole lot of other sports. I’ve definitely been inspired by other surfers and musicians. Keith Richards has always been one of my favorites. 

What goals do you have going forward into 2024?  

Right now, I’m transitioning out of competing full time so I’m excited to figure out what my goals will be outside of the jersey. I want to make another film this year. I also want to surf some big waves. I’m really excited to chase some swells to some of my favorite waves and go on some new adventures. 

Todd Williamson/Shutterstock
Todd Williamson/Shutterstock

Nitro Circus Goes Full Throttle 

An exciting new addition of entertainment delivered at the 2023 US Open. Nitro Circus (based in Costa Mesa) provided an arial assault with eight freestyle motocross riders over two weekends.

Crowds lined up along the beach as the Nitro Circus crew flew its heavy machinery through the air. Their 20th anniversary tour concludes Oct. 28, at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

Up Next For World Surf League

As summer cruises into fall, athletes are looking to earn points and secure positions to compete for a world championship. The WSL Finals are scheduled for Sept. 8-16, from Lower Trestles in San Clemente, CA. The Longboard Championships take place Oct. 3-13, in Malibu, CA.