Hawaiian surfers claim top prizes on final day of US Open of Surfing
The US Open of Surfing takes place every year in Huntington Beach, but this year it belongs to Hawaii.
Hawaiian surfers swept the men’s and women’s main event finals on the south side of Huntington Beach Pier on Sunday, with Ezekiel Lau taking the men’s crown and Bettylou Sakura Johnson winning in the women’s division.
“I’m so happy, I always wanted to win the US Open,” said Lau, 28. “It’s an event I’ve watched since I was young and competed at Huntington Beach for so long.
“Andy Irons won it a few years ago and he was my role model. It’s for him and Sunny [Garcia] and all Hawaiians. There were so many Hawaiians in the final today, I was so happy to be part of it.
Even the Duct Tape Invitational longboard finals were loaded with Aloha, with three of the four finalists hailing from Hawaii.
The women’s division had an all-Hawaiian final with Kelis Kaleopaa taking the win over Honolua Blomfield 12.97-11.47, while Taylor Jensen of San Diego was able to beat Kaniela Stewart of Hawaii 13.84-11.60 in the men’s final.
“It means everything,” Lau said of the Hawaiian presence. “We’re all here to try and do the same, and that represents Hawaii. I was really proud and happy to be here on the day of the final with all of them. Everyone was doing crazy performances and when Bettylou won hers, I was like, “Oh, this is mine now, I have to put this away.”
Lau faced Joao Chianca in the men’s final but trailed the Brazilian in the 35-minute heat with less than 10 minutes to go, needing a 5.94. Lau got the wave he needed, taking a left and throwing two big snaps outside to score a 6.90 and take the lead.
Chianca needed a 6.18 in the final minutes but never got a good wave, allowing Lau to take the win and the $20,000 prize, winning 12.40-11.43.
“For me, finals are all mental,” Lau said. “You decide, ‘Do I want to be second or do I want to win now?’ You have to make those decisions when you’re in the water. I’m not trying to make the heat anymore, I’m trying to win, and that’s what I was doing there.
“I went hard at the start, trying to get scores on the board and be offensive. And then, towards the end, needing scores and seeing what the situation was, just making those clutch decisions, to go or not.
In the women’s final, 17-year-old Sakura Johnson posted scores of 6.93 and 5.07 for a two-wave score of 12.00, overcoming Australia’s Macy Callaghan’s 10.40 to win the test and the prize of $20,000.
Sakura Johnson had to go five rounds just to reach the final, and that included beating an Australian in the quarters, semi-finals and final, completing a long and fruitful week.
“Honestly, I think that’s my mindset,” Sakura Johnson said when asked to explain her success. “This event, I have everything I need. I have all my friends and family supporting me. I have family from Hawaii who get up early and watch [online]. I have my trainer Ross [Williams]. I think everything is falling into place and it feels good.
Callaghan beat close friend Caroline Marks in the semis to reach the final, her second straight final in a World Surf League Challenger Series event, following last month’s Ballito Pro in South Africa.
“I just put a little less pressure on myself compared to other years,” Callaghan said. “Two finals in a row, I never imagined I would do that this year. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do the Challenger Series this year, I wasn’t sure I wanted to come back on tour or even if competitive surfing was something for me. But I think it could be now, I’m pretty happy.
In the two men’s semi-finals, the last of the Continentals was eliminated. Eithan Osborne of Ventura was eliminated by Lau, 12.77-11.34, while Even Geiselman of Florida was eliminated by Chianca in the nearest set on the day of the final, 12.64-12.54.
In the Vans Showdown skate competition, the male winner was Jhancarlos Gonzalez from Colombia, and the female winner was Hayley Wilson from Australia, each taking home $10,000.
Best figure awards went to Mason Silva of Manhattan Beach (men) and Wenhui (Zoe) Zeng (women) of China.
Support our sports coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.
For more sports stories visit latimes.com/socal/daily-pilot/sports or follow us on Twitter @DailyPilotSport.