US Open Of Surfing Moments: Courtney’s Colossal Quarterfinal
Even when the surf is small at Huntington for the U.S. Open, the crowd alone brings a certain electricity to the air. In 2009, however, the crowd noise was being drowned out by the ocean, as the biggest south swell of the year roared into town for the final days of the comp, creating thick and unruly walls of water exploding so loud it sounded like mortar rounds were going off.
On Friday morning double-overhead-plus waves were detonating against the pier. By that afternoon, for the women’s quarterfinals, the swell seemed to be growing. And instead of the normal summer onshore winds blowing it to junk, it somehow turned into a pitch perfect sunny day with the tiniest breath of wind.
Even though it looked beautiful, when sixteen-year-old local girl Courtney Conlogue paddled out against Australian wonderkid Sally Fitzgibbons in quarterfinal number three there was genuine concern in the air. Plenty of full grown male pros had been taken out by the pier in years past in surf half this size. However, the concern didn’t last long.
Just a few minutes into the heat, Courtney snagged a bombing left, one of the bigger waves of the day. She raced the wall and cranked a mach two bottom turn, and shot up to the top where she delivered a huge lip scalp, and then skipped down the face, the whitewash booming behind her. It was clear she was not intimidated the least bit by the giant surf. The score came in at a 9.7, and she was off to the races.
Above: Courtney Conlogue photo gallery
With five minutes left, a massive set began to march in. In a day of superlative surf, this set seemed to be pulsing even bigger. The beach crowd stood up to try and spot the two girls, who were only visible for a split second as they paddled over the tops of the giant walls. Suddenly Courtney was dropping down the face of one, screaming toward the pier. The sheer size of the wave, coupled by her diminutive stature made for a cartoon-looking scene. She drew a high line, bottom turning mid face, and came shooting toward the lip. She carved across it sending up a huge fan, air-dropped down the face, and rode cleanly out of it. The score rang up a 9.93, and put her heat score at a 19.63—the highest heat score of the entire comp in any division.
It was a gutsy triumph amid a day full of inspired performances. Although to her, it was just a chance to surf bombing Huntington with one other girl out. “Those were the kind of conditions I love to surf in, so it was like an amazing freesurf session,” she says. “Plus the ski was towing me back out after every wave. I was just taking advantage of that, catching as many waves as possible, and not getting worked—it was great.”
And of course you know this story has a happy ending: Courtney went on the next day to win the women’s final. The win got all the headlines, but for those that witnessed that amazing quarterfinal, it will go down as one of the best female performances in U.S. Open history.—Casey Koteen