2 August, 2019 2 August, 2019

A US Open Post Mortem

Is Paul Simon’s ‘You can call me Al’ the anthem of South Africa’s showing at the US Open 2019?
“A man walks down the street / He says, “Why am I soft in the middle, now? / Why am I soft in the middle? / The rest of my life is so hard / I need a photo opportunity / I want a shot at redemption / Don’t want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard”.

After an underwhelming series of performances, Cyle Myers asks some hard questions.

A couple of years ago I was working as a surf coach in Portugal near a town called Sagres. It was the middle of Summer and swells were in high demand but short supply. Luckily for us though, the beach the surf camp was assigned to was a swell magnet. Europeans from all over the continent showed up in droves of campervans to surf the beachie. For a while, a crazy left bank developed on the other end of the beach. So rippable. A soft lip. Perfect for fin wafts and a wonderful closeout that begged you to take to the skies. As the word spread soon all the local Portuguese pros heard about the bank and were all over it like a Vaalie on a brannewyn en Coke.

One cooking day out there, I ended up having an extensive conversation with Marlon Lipke, I told him I was from South Africa and he quickly informed me he’d be traveling to Durban for the Ballito Pro. On a wave that begged for innovation, Marlon surfed like he was a machine in a VW factory pumping out Caddies. I couldn’t help amuse myself with the idea that Marlon was about to walk into the lion’s den over in Ballito and get destroyed. But oh was I wrong! Wrong as can be. In fact, exactly the opposite happened. All the South Africans got knocked early and Marlon ended up doing pretty well. For a guy who, to me, didn’t seem that good, he had a certain confidence about his surfing, an arrogance, a belief in himself. And it was half the job done!

HUNTINGTON BEACH, UNITED STATES – JULY 27: Dylan Lightfoot of South Africa advances to Round 2 of the 2019 VANS US Open of Surfing after winning Heat 8 of Round 1 at Huntington Beach on July 28, 2019 in CA, USA.(Photo by Jenny Herron/WSL via Getty Images)

At the Vans US Open of Surfing, South Africa had a good number of entrants. Far more than we’ve had the last couple of years. The list included Beyrick de Vries, Matty McGillivray, Dylan Lightfoot, Davey van Zyl, Adin Masencamp, Mikey February and Bianca Buitendag. But by the end of round two, all the South Africans had been knocked out except Dylan Lightfoot. Lightfoot made two heats, round 1 and 2 and got knocked out in round 3. Beyrick acquired an interference and placed fourth, Adin Masencamp got two small scores a 2.33 and a 3.70 for a third place, Mikey February and Matty McGilivary got a third and fourth in their round 2 heat pushing Yago Dora and Kalani Ball into the next round.

Davey Van Zyl managed a fourth-place and Bianca got one too. Basically, almost all South Africans got knocked before the US Open of Surfing even felt like it got going. So we here at Zag wanted to know, what the hell happened? Was it the waves? Are they struggling financially? Do they need some of Marlon Lipke’s Koolaid?! What went down! We sent a solid team of talented young men and one woman over to the shores of the United States to have them all (except one) knocked out before round 3.

HUNTINGTON BEACH, UNITED STATES – JULY 28: Michael February of South Africa is eliminated from the 2019 VANS US Open of Surfing after placing third in Heat 9 of Round 2 at Huntington Beach on July 28, 2019 in CA, USA. (Photo by Jenny Herron/WSL via Getty Images)

Adin Masencamp had this to say, “The US Open is a f*cken hard event. Maybe it’s the wave quality? Before the event it was pumping and we were definitely the top tier surfers, all of the South Africans were looking amazing, but once the contest started it turned to 1-2 foot wind swell and to be honest we just don’t surf that type of shit often enough. Huntington Beach is a tough wave, it changes all the time, every thirty minutes it changes, I mean I don’t wanna make excuses and I can’t really pinpoint why we did so bad, but we just have to roll with the punches and keep training in bad waves.”

“South Africans have done well at the US Open of Surfing in the past, the year before last Mikey made the quarterfinals, Beyrick’s done very well at this event and me, as a junior made it to the semifinals and the quarterfinals.” Said Dylan Lightfoot. “The last heat I surfed, my coach and I counted 6 waves that you could get a real score on. That’s 6 waves in 30 minutes for 4 competitors. It’s a matter of making the right choices at the moment to make the heats, so you’re in line with priority when that scoring wave does eventually come. Rhythm with the ocean, especially at Huntington Beach, is so crucial. Local knowledge definitely pays off too. But in saying that, Kolohe also got knocked in round 3 and with the way he was surfing, I thought he would’ve won the whole event! So I guess it just goes to show.”

HUNTINGTON BEACH, UNITED STATES – JULY 29: Bianca Buitendag of South Africa advances to Round 1 of the 2019 VANS US Open of Surfing after winning Heat 2 of Round 3 at Huntington Beach on July 30, 2019 in CA, USA. (Photo by Jenny Herron/WSL via Getty Images)

“When I go into a heat I wanna showcase my surfing and put on a show and when that happens I end up winning heats but at Huntington Beach, it just felt like there were no opportunities… and I think that happened to a lot of the South Africans.” Adin continues. “I know that all of us are top tier surfers, 100% and without a doubt! The smaller waves in California aren’t our strength, but the upcoming events are going to be good and that’s where the South Africans will thrive and you’ll see completely different results.” He added with a flourish.

Straight up! Our boys and girls are not soft in the middle, they hard and innovative and they got grit. We’re heading into the QS10 000s that offer far more power: the Pantin Classic in Spain and the EDP Billabong Pro in Ericeira, Portugal and then the two Hawaiian events to end the season. I think we can expect far better results from the team.

But ultimately, we also need to take a page out of Marlon Lipke’s repertoire. Our boys and girls need a healthy dose of self-belief and a big ol’ spoonful of arrogance in their surfing. The unshakeable belief that they have what it takes and they can bury anyone alive if they so desire. Not just when the conditions suit but when the chips are down and you’re forced to surf sloppy wind swell at Huntington. You see half of Marlon’s success was the belief that ‘He Can Do It’ and as I said before, that was half the job done.


  1. marc
    2 August, 2019 at 12:32 pm · Reply

    Sounds like our surfers require some sports psychology rather than surf coaching.

  2. Graham
    5 August, 2019 at 3:49 pm · Reply

    The waves weren’t small and lousy. They were actually pretty good (the best in recent memory), and they remained consistent the entire week except for the Thursday and surprisingly, Sunday, Finals Day – and even then it was came through solid from time to time. No different from what SA surfers surf all day long at breaks like North and New Pier in Durban.

    The South Africans don’t surf a percentage game – it’s go for broke with looking for the big number high scoring aerials on every wave, and other high risk manouvres instead of patiently building scores.

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