Editor’s Note: This article is brought to you by our partners at Vans.
The Vans US Open of Surfing Duct Tape Invitational is a wrap, and a huge congratulations to your men’s and women’s longboard champs Taylor Jensen and Kelis Kaleopa’a. It’s been great to be here on the sand at Huntington Beach to catch all the action, and as far as action goes, the Vans Duct Tape Invitational did not disappoint.
The first day of longboard competition was Thursday, and with no shortage of swell on tap from Hurricane Frank, the longboarding was a bit chaotic. There’s nothing wrong with longboarding in bigger waves, but a log in closeout conditions is always going to be tricky. That was evident from the first heat of the morning, with Jules Lepecheux surfacing to find himself with a broken board after tempting the shorebreak on his first wave of the event.
By the end of the day he wasn’t the only one to have suffered damage, with a couple of leashless logs saying “hi” to the pilings under the Huntington Beach Pier. Friday and Saturday saw varied conditions, at times dreamy, and at times, downright difficult.
On the longboard tour, leashes are optional and rarely used, but after watching that first heat, a few competitors decided to leash up. One who did not leash up the entire event was Tosh Tudor, who was surfing in his first WSL Longboard event with the poise of a seasoned competitor. We’ve had a few different conversations about leashless surfing here at The Inertia, and one point that’s come up has been how surfing leashless could hold you back from attempting risky maneuvers.
The above theory could not have been further from the truth for Tosh, as the stylish youngster danced his way through heat after heat in his first WSL event, taking down world number one Harrison Roach in round four, “unleashing” his highest scoring wave of the heat in the dying minutes. He went on to face close friend and mentor Justin Quintal in the quarterfinals, and the master proved he can still take down the student, with a 9.00 ride through the pier to seal the deal.
Finals day dawned clean and glassy, with the women’s semifinals taking to the water first. The two Hawaiians, Kelis Kaleopa’a and Honolua Blomfield proved their mettle, taking out Californians Kaitlin Mikkelsen and Rachael Tilly, respectively. The all-Hawaiian final pitted the three-time Women’s Longboard Tour champ in Honolua against reigning Duct Tape Invitational winner Kelis. A fairly high-scoring heat, Kelis took control early and didn’t let go, earning her first win of the year to match Honolua’s at the Sydney Surf Pro.
The men’s semifinals had Taylor Jensen up against Kaimana Takayama, and Quintal against Kaniela Stewart. If you’re a fan of board design discussions, check out TJ vs Kaimana, as Matt Chojnacki joined the broadcast to chat about the five-year-old board under the feet of Kaimana, shaped by his father, Michael Takayama. Jensen ended up moving on to the finals, as did Kaniela Stewart. Stewart got off to an early lead against Quintal, a favorite maneuver of Quintal’s, and continued to up the requirement until the very end despite strong surfing from Quintal.
However, Taylor Jensen was the one who ended up on the top of the pack in the finals, racking up two solid scores early on in the heat to fend off what would have been a Hawaiian sweep of the second stop on the Longboard Tour. He rode a pintail noserider throughout the event, as opposed to the squared-off tails you see on most noseriding longboards.
“I’ve been riding pintails for years,” Jensen told me. “When it comes to beach breaks and junky conditions that rounded pin gives me a better flow, it cuts through the water better and holds in the pocket really nicely, but the main advantage is that it holds its speed. When you’re dealing with Huntington and the reform, you really need to carry your speed, so it makes it easier to surf out there as opposed to fighting against the square tail.”
The final Longboard Tour event is in Malibu October 3-13. The Longboard Championship, Malibu will count double the points in determining the 2022 men’s and women’s longboard champions. After the first two events, Honolua Blomfield and Harrison Roach are still in the lead, with Kelis Kaleopa’a and Taylor Jensen right behind them in the rankings.