In the final moments of the U.S. Open of Surfing on Sunday, Kelly Slater scored a near-perfect wave and still couldn't catch Shane Beschen, who got five maneuvers to one ride to win at the Huntington Beach pier.
Though he had led most of the 45-minute heat, Slater needed a 9.84 ride with no large waves on the horizon and two minutes to go. Skillfully controlling his speed, he forced a barrel ride from a wave that seemed too small to support one. To cap the move, he launched his board off the lip of the wave, caught air and pumped a fist overhead after a successful whitewater landing.
On the pier, in the stands and on the sand, an estimated 60,000 cheered and the judges awarded Slater a 9.67.
"I knew it was going to be a nine-something," Beschen said. "But when I saw him paddling back out with a minute to go, I figured (Slater would fall short)."
In his semifinal heat, Beschen defeated Sunny Garcia on a last-minute ride. Slater set the pace in his semifinal, catching seven waves and riding them with slashing turns, tail slides and a 360-degree turn. His opponent, Michael Barry, caught only five waves.
Coming back in less than an hour for the finals, Slater again started quickly and took an early lead.
After falling twice, Beschen took turns with Slater on small- and medium-sized waves to cut down the lead. On a large left-breaking wave, Beschen made two sharp turns and followed them with a long floater and two more quick turns. The wave earned him a 9.0 and sent him ahead of Slater.
"I don't want to make too much out of beating Kelly, but I've been surfing against him since I was 10," Beschen said.
Beschen, 23, grew up in San Clemente, but faced Slater, who lives in Cocoa Beach, Fla., in amateur surf contests. Slater, 22, joined the world championship tour three years ago and won the world title in 1992.
Beschen joined the tour two years ago but had never reached the finals of an event.