Each year, the Vans US Open of Surfing features the best in the world tearing up the storied break at Huntington Beach. Along with competitions for skate and BMX and dozens of on-site sponsors, the nine-day festival features four separate surf contests, including Junior Tour contests for men and women, a high-stakes men's Qualifying Series battle, and a women's Championship Tour contest for the Top 17. With so much to see, get a glimpse of some of the standouts from 2014, and ones to watch for the year ahead.
Women's CT: Tyler Wright (AUS)
With her win at the US Open last year, Wright announced her competitive fire on Tour, and effectively moved the needle forward for women's progressive surfing. Her combination of impressive power and seamless boosts -- like the one in her video, above -- set a new bar for the Top 17. Wright had a strong start this year, opening with third- and fifth-place event finishes that had her in No. 3 on the Jeep rankings. A ninth-place finish in Fiji has set her back to No. 5, but the US Open could be just the opportunity she needs to shine again.
Wright won't however, be alone in her efforts to dominate at Huntington Beach: Californians Courtney Conlogue (USA) can match Wright in terms of power-hooks and the sheer will to win. Lakey Peterson (USA), meanwhile, won in 2013 and can boost with the best of them -- as can Brazilian Silvana Lima (BRA). The women's CT kicks off July 27.
Men's QS: Filipe Toledo (BRA)
As a points-rich opportunity to climb the rankings, the men's Qualifying Series contest offers a mix of performances from surfing's elites (like Jordy Smith (ZAF) and Julian Wilson (AUS)) as well as rising stars. Because the event is worth a whopping 10,000 rankings points for the winner, it attracts surfers who are pushing to qualify for the 2016 Championship Tour, current CT surfers backing up their elite rankings with QS rankings to stay on Tour in 2016, as well as mid-tier QS surfers who are working their way up. The mix can provide a preview of who might shine on Tour in 2016: Last year, Toledo blew minds with his high-flying maneuvers, which proved to be just a taste of what would unfold in Rio.
Other top-ranked surfers to watch include Alejo Muniz (BRA), who just won the Ballito Pro; Willian Cardoso (BRA), who finished runner-up to Toledo in 2014; and Caio Ibelli (BRA), who's currently ranked No. 3 on the QS, and has some dangerous progressive skills.
Junior Women: Mahina Maeda (HAW)
Maeda was runner-up at the 2014 Vans US Open Junior Pro, and has been on fire ever since. Not only did she win the World Junior Championships, but she proved her mettle in heavy conditions, too. On a heavy day at Nazare, Portugal, she was towed in to this bomb of a wave. In smaller surf, she's continued to hold her own. While Maeda finished No. 3 and No. 9 so far this year on the Junior Tour, she has been doing well on the QS, and is currently ranked No. 7. That QS experience, combined with her recent appearance as a wildcard in Fiji, should hold her in good stead amid a heavy field at Huntington Beach.
Other Junior women to watch out for are Hawaiians Bailey Nagy, who won the US Open Junior contest last year, and Dax McGill, who's leading the Hawaiian regional junior rankings. Plus, Australia's Isabella Nichols has been the one to beat in her region.
Junior Men: Seth Moniz (HAW)
Among the Junior Tour men, Seth Moniz has similarly been on a tear in the past few months. He just won the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) Championships (an early playing field for Carissa Moore, among other pros) and was runner-up at the Los Cabos Open of Surf QS contest. Moniz's older brother Josh made the US Open Junior Pro last year -- could it be Seth's turn this time around?