San Clemente’s Colapinto wins U.S. Open of Surfing title, Oceanside’s Simmers clinches women’s

Griffin Colapinto had a good feeling going into the U.S. Open of Surfing, an intuition that it was finally his time to win the title.

The San Clemente surfer won a junior title at age 16 at the Huntington Beach event and has come painfully close at the main event, but it wasn’t until Sunday, Sept. 26, that he was able to win his first-ever U.S. Open of Surfing title.

“It’s been a long run,” he said. “It’s been burning on me. I had a weird intuition it was going to come together, I was feeling good.

“It came together.”

Colapinto was joined by Oceanside surfer Caitlin Simmers on the winner’s podium, also a junior U.S. Open of Surfing title holder. The 15-year-old surfer’s win makes her the second-youngest to ever clinch a U.S. Open of Surfing women’s title.

“I’m just really happy,” she said. “I’m stoked everything went my way.”

  • Griffin Colapinto, of San Clemente, react to cheers as he wins the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Caitlin Simmers, 15,  of Oceanside is carried up the beach as she wins the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Surfer Nolan Rapoza of Long Beach hits the lip during the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Caitlin Simmers, 15,  and Griffin Colapinto react to cheers as they win the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Surfing fans line the beach to watch the action during the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Surfer and past winner Courtney Conlogue is consoled by her family after losing in the semi-finals during the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Sloane Gray, nine months, takes in his first curf contest with his parents, Joel and Ashley during the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • People watch the action and replays on one of several jumbo screens during the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • A rising tide catches some photographers off guard during the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Surfer Nolan Rapoza of Long Beach is congratulated after beating US Olympian Kolohi Andino in an upset during the quarterfinals of the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Spectators Shiralika Gupta and her dog Linus take in the action during the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Surfer Nolan Rapoza of Long Beach hits the lip during the semi-finals of the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Runnerup Jake Marshall of Oceanside carves a wave on the inside in the final during the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Runnerup Jake Marshall of Oceanside hits the lip during final in the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Griffin Colapinto of San Clemente hits the lip as he wins the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Griffin Colapinto of San Clemente hits the lip in the shorebreak as he wins the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Runnerup Jake Marshall of Oceanside attempts an air manuever in the final during the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Courtney Conlogue hits the lip in the shorebreak during the semi-finals of the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Gabriela Bryan of Hawaii hits the lip during the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Fans of surfer Nolan Rapoza of Long Beach cheer for him during semi-finals of the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Silver haired Olympic silver medalist Kanoa Igarashi does an air manuever in the semi-final of the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • 15 year-old Caitlin Simmers hits the lip in the final as she wins the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • 15 year-old Caitlin Simmers hits the lip on her way to wining the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Silver haired Olympic silver medalist Kanoa Igarashi hits the lip during the semi-final of the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Caitlin Simmers, 15, hits the lip on her way to wining the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Caitlin Simmers, 15,  hits the lip in the final as she wins the US Open of Surfing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at the pier in Huntington Beach.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

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The sand, pier and bleachers filled with surf fans through the morning. The contest got underway on Sunday under overcast skies with 3-foot to 4-foot waves showing up for the final day.

While the big event was scaled down this year by the lingering coronavirus pandemic, beachgoers stopped at the few brand booths that were allowed, meandering on the wooden walkway that led down to the surf contest.

A big group of supporters showed up with blow horns, hand clappers and cheers for Long Beach surfer Nolan Rapoza, who has trained at the Huntington Beach Pier since he was 10 years old.

Rapoza, now 23, was up against World Tour veteran Kolohe Andino, a San Clemente surfer also no stranger to the surf break on the south of the pier from growing up doing contests here on the competitive circuit.

He saw Andino stumble on a few waves, a boost of confidence and a chance for him to overtake the more experienced surfer.

Rapoza launched to the air to do a big air reverse, landing in the whitewash and continuing to toward shore, the group of supporters on the sand going wild as the judges awarded him an 8-point score.

“After I did the first big air, I could hear everyone screaming and I needed to calm my nerves and finish,” Rapoza said.

He surfed with strategy, keeping close to Andino as the clock ticked down to keep him from nabbing a good wave – a tactic that gave him a big win against one of the world’s best to earn a spot at the semi-finals.

Huntington Beach surfer Kanoa Igarashi also had local knowledge on his side, going up against  Brazilian Lucas Silveira and winning the heat for a spot in the semi-finals

“I’d love to just win again,” said the two-time U.S. Open of Surfing champion. “I have a bunch of my friends and family here, we’re pretty much on vacation right now, and being able to compete and spend time with them is really special.”

When the women’s semi-final event got underway, Hawaiian surfer Gabriela Bryan earned a spot in the final after beating veteran surfer Coco Ho, also from Hawaii.

Santa Ana surfer Courtney Conlogue was matched up against Simmers in the semi-final, a teen making her mark in the competitive circuit.

Conlogue got a pair of mid-range scores, two 5.17 scores, while Simmers earned an early 7.0, then backed it up with a 7.83 with just four minutes left on the clock – putting the two-time U.S. Open of Surfing and World Tour veteran in a corner needing a 9.66.

“My mindsight was I had nothing to lose,” Simmers said.

When the men’s semi-final got underway, Rapoza’s streak came to an end against San Diego’s Jake Marshall. Rapoza patiently waited for waves, finding a 5.23 with just three minutes left on the clock to take the lead.

But Marshall wasn’t going out without a fight, a wave popping up right next to the pier with just a minute left on the clock that earned him a 5.77 to clinch a spot in the finals.

Still, it was Rapoza’s best result yet at the U.S. Open of Surfing, giving him a good start to the Challenger Series, a four-stop series that gives top surfers a chance on the World Tour.

“It feels amazing … this is what I dreamed about,” he said. “It’s been really fun having all my family and friends coming down to support me. It’s insane, I love all the support, it really means a lot to me.”

The second semi-finals was an all Orange County match-up with Igarashi against Colapinto.

Colapinto wasted no time, earning a 7.17 on his first wave, finding a second wave to post a 6.10 score, the crowd cheering as he made his way toward the sand.

Igarashi had an uncharacteristic heat, with little on the scoreboard as the clock ticked down, taking his first big wave for a 5.17 with two minutes left, but not nearly enough to turn the heat.

Before the finals got underway, the beach announcer asked the crowd to take a one-minute moment of silence for Rick “Rockin Fig” Fignetti, who for decades provided the beach commentary for the big event. The beach fell quiet as people remembered the beloved beach announcer and Huntington Beach surf shop owner, who died unexpectedly at age 64 last July.

Then the attention turned back to the water when the finals got underway, Simmers taking the first punch with two big turns to get a score of 6.33.

Bryan earned a 5.67, but another 7.17 and a 6.73 by Simmers eventually earned her the win.

“I guess I just had momentum, things just went my way,” she said.

As the men’s 35-minute final got underway, Marshall took the first wave to earn a 5.50. Colapinto followed, stomping an inside hack to put a 6.83 on the board followed by a 7.57, but Marshall wasn’t going to back down, carving his way across a solid wave to earn a 7.33 and then another with 5-minutes left on the clock, but stumbling on the inside turn.

As the clock ticked down, Colapinto put a stamp on the heat, pulled off an air reverse on the outside, then again on the inside, supporters dressed in bright orange sweaters jumping around on the sand to celebrate and then chairing him on the sand following the buzzer sounding as he waved the American flag high.

T.J. Prendergast, of Tustin, was stoked to see Colapinto, who was runner up at the event in 2018, take the win.

“We’ve been supporting him for a long time,” Prendergast said. “He’s been so close for so long and he finally pulled it off. It’s great to see.”

Colapinto thanked his family and supporters following his win.

“I’m allowed to go about life having a good time,” he said, “no matter what, win or lose.”

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