By Mike Sciacca
2:59 PM PDT, August 4, 2014
On the eve of the final weekend of competition, Filipe Toledo was a minute away from elimination in the Men's Prime Round 4 heat action at the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing.
He managed to survive that fate Friday with an impressive come-from-behind victory and on Sunday afternoon emerged as the men's champion.
The 19-year-old Brazilian won his first men's title and second title in a U.S. Open competition by defeating countryman Willian Cardoso in the 35-minute heat final at the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier.
Toledo's triumph came a little more than an hour after Australian Tyler Wright defeated another Aussie, Stephanie Gilmore, to claim the U.S. Open Women's crown.
The two finals, one ending and the second beginning in flat conditions, concluded nine days of competition at the pier.
"It feels great to win the U.S. Open," said Toledo, who three years ago won U.S. Open Men's Pro Junior title.s
Sunday, he earned his largest competition paycheck: $100,000.
"This is a lot of money," he said. "The first U.S. Open I competed in was 2011, the Junior, and I won. Last year, I felt really confident with my board but lost in the second round. This year, I came here to surf and relax. I didn't surf all week. I surfed only my heats."
You could tell Toledo and Cardoso are friendly rivals. The two rode toward shore in sync after the final horn had sounded and enthusiastically engaged the Brazilian well-wishers among the large crowd, a passionate and joyous group that reveled in the excitement of having two of their countrymen in the U.S. Open men's final for the first time since 1999. It was Cardoso who gave Toledo the victorious champagne shower on the main stage after the event.
Brazilian surfers have made a huge impact in Huntington Beach. Last year, it was another friend of Toledo's, Alejo Muniz, who took the men's title.
Toledo was eliminated early in last year's competition, falling to Muniz in a second-round heat. Muniz was eliminated from a repeat title this year after finishing third and not advancing past his first-round heat July 28.
Toledo appeared to be on his way out of the Men's Prime when he trailed Michael Dunphy (USA) late in a Round 4 heat Friday. Toledo hit a big wave score in the final minute and squeezed through with a 0.06 differential in scoring and took a 14.23-14.17 victory to stay in title contention.
"I've been talking with [Muniz] all week, and I talked to him before my semifinal (Sunday)," Toledo said. "He told me to just keep doing my work, that I was doing good and that I could win."
The men's final pitted power (Cardoso) vs. speed (Toledo).
Cardoso, who received $20,000 for his runner-up finish, posted the highest wave score (9.03) of the men's final, nailing it on his second ride of the heat. Toledo, though, led the entire way. With Cardoso holding priority in the first 12 minutes of the heat, Toledo took a wave that his rival passed up. He floated the tail and came up with an up-and-over finish, and was awarded an 8.73 score that was the first high mark of the heat.
Cardoso, 28, surpassed that score with his 9.03 score moments later.
Despite concern about an ankle injury, saying it was only 40 percent healed entering the competition, it was easy to see that Toledo was having fun and enjoying the moment. He showed it when he posted his highest wave score.
It came with 15 minutes left. He came out the back with a snap, went airborne, spun around and flipped out of it, put the tail of his board up and took the inside to finish off a ride that drew the crowd's admiration. He had achieved a score of 8.83, and it meant that Cardoso had to land a score of 8.53 in the final 10 minutes to take the lead.
Cardoso never got the opportunity as the surf flattened down the stretch of the heat.
To reach the final, Toledo first had to deal with local favorite Brett Simpson of Huntington Beach in the second of two Sunday morning semifinals. Simpson, who was after his third U.S. Open men's title, took the early lead with a 6.67 wave score. Toledo topped it when an inside connection that led to an 8.93 score on his second wave.
Toledo won the heat, 17.53-13.60, and Simpson took home $11,000 for his equal-third-place finish.
In the other semifinal, Cardoso eased past Australian Adam Melling, 15.66-8.57.
Battle for women's title
Before the all-Brazilian men's final, two talented Aussies, Tyler Wright and Stephanie Gilmore, went through an intense battle for the women's title. Wright, 20, combined top wave scores of 8.67 and 6.10 to take a 14.77-13.16 victory.
Wright received $60,000 for her win; Gilmore, 26, and a five-time world champion, $25,000 for second place.
Wright was on a roll over the weekend which started with her defeating defending U.S. Open women's champion Carissa Moore in a quarterfinal heat Saturday.
Gilmore had won each of her previous four heats before Sunday's final.
"Tyler's one of the most naturally talented surfers on the planet," Gilmore said. "She forces you to be innovative out there. I knew going into the final that this would be my toughest heat."
At the Van's Concrete Bowl Sunday, 31-year-old Gary Young of San Diego won the Van Doren Invitational BMX contest. On Saturday in the bowl, 21-year-old Raven Tershy of Santa Cruz won the Van Doren Invitational Skate final.
Also Saturday, Bailey Nagy of Hawaii won the Women's Pro Junior title and $2,000 top prize. Matt Banting of Australia, who had a strong run in the Men's Prime before he was eliminated Saturday in Round 5, came back later in the day to win the Men's Pro Junior title and a $4,500 check. In the Joel Tudor Duct Tape Invitational (longboard), 20-year-old Floridian Justin Quintal repeated as champion and earned $4,000 for his win.