HUNTINGTON BEACH — World champion Lisa Andersen again proved why she is in a league of her own, winning the women's title Saturday at the Op Pro Surfing Championships.
Andersen, runner-up last year to Frieda Zamba of Flagler Beach, Fla., attacked each wave in characteristic aggressive style.
During the 30-minute heat, the lead changed back and forth between Australia's Pauline Menczer, Andersen and upstart Patricia Rossi of Tahiti. But as the waves got larger--a condition on which she thrives--Andersen, of Ormond Beach, Fla., sealed the victory with a 6.1 ride with about a minute left in the finale.
"It was anyone's game out there," Andersen said. "But the conditions were good and I was able to catch some good waves." It was later announced that Andersen and the three other finalists had been competing in the largest surf since the women started competing in the event in 1982.
The size of the waves played into Andersen's hands, but Rossi said she had wished they were a little smaller.
"They [waves] were big," Rossi said. "I'm glad I made it this far, and I hope to do better next week at the U.S. Open."
For Kim Mearig, the former world champion, her comeback was cut short in the morning's semifinals.
Mearig, 31, of Santa Barbara, who trailed Rossi and Andersen throughout her semifinal heat, was unable to catch as many high-scoring waves as her younger counterparts.
Andersen, who a few days earlier was nursing strep throat, seemed to have no problems in the heat, taking an immediate first place with the day's highest score for a woman's ride (8.17). She remained first throughout the 20-minute heat.
Andersen will compete in the upcoming U.S. Open at the Huntington Beach Pier.
In Round 3 of the men's main event Saturday, the original pack of 288 surfers is now 16. Those 16 advanced to today's quarterfinals.
Maybe the ultimate gesture of sportsmanship came during the fourth heat when defending Op Pro champion Rob Machado exchanged boards with Conan Hayes.
With about two minutes left in the the heat, Hayes told Machado his board was starting to crease, and might break.
"I had a substantial lead, and Conan's board had a chance of breaking," said Machado, who easily won his heat to advance. "He needed a board to stay in the competition so I switched my board with him."
With Machado's board, Hayes was able to catch some waves to score more points and remain in second place to advance.
"Yeah, that was pretty cool, what Rob did," said Hayes, who is from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. "We're friends, so he was helping me out."
Although it was a noble gesture, Machado made it plain he wouldn't do that for anybody. "I probably wouldn't do it with three-quarters of the people on this tour," he said, laughing. Machado, from Cardiff, scored 31.60, the highest score of the day.
With a good south swell, Saturday's conditions were much better than Friday's choppy and erratic surf. However, a hard steady wind early in the morning had some worried about the wave conditions.
"Before my heat I was standing on the beach, freezing and wondering if conditions would improve," said Taylor Knox of Cardiff, who also advanced. "But just when I started to paddle out, the sun came out and the waves were actually good."
Possibly the best comeback of the day was Sunny Garcia, who advanced with Jeff Deffenbaugh of Huntington Beach in the fourth heat of the third round.
Garcia, 25, who finished third in the U.S. Open last year, desperately needed to catch the minimum fourth wave to move him out of last place. With two minutes remaining in the 20-minute heat, Garcia, from Honolulu, demonstrated why he's second-ranked on the men's world tour, catching a wave that took him all the way in the shallows to give him 7.10 points and the second-place spot.
"That's typical Sunny," Deffenbaugh said. "It was actually pretty decent out there. I wasn't sure about the surf this morning. When I woke up and saw how hard the wind was blowing, I figured I'd be in for some bad surf. But when you think the conditions will be bad but it turns out to be pretty good, you feel good and surf better."
Surf conditions continued to improve throughout the day and provided some good 3- to 5-foot waves for the men's longboard final.
Joel Tudor of San Diego won with 31.47 points, followed by Bonga Perkins of Mililani, Hawaii. Colin McPhillips of Capistrano Beach finished third and Josh Mohr of Huntington Beach was fourth.
Men's quarterfinals--8 a.m.--9:20 a.m.; Op Junior semifinals--9:20 a.m.--10 a.m.; Men's semifinals--10:40 a.m.--11 a.m.; Op Junior finals--Noon--12:30 p.m.; Men's finals--12:35 p.m.--1:05 p.m.
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OP PRO CHAMPIONSHIPS
at Huntington Beach
Men's main event
(Top two from each heat advance)