A hometown fairytale!
On paper, Carissa Moore came to Haleiwa as the favorite. At the outset, her local knowledge and powerful style looked unbeatable.
Well, paper is paper and water is wet, and that is not how things turned out.
Instead, Bettylou Sakura Johnson just scored the biggest result of her career so far. Currently 16, Johnson won Haleiwa after beating Moore, Gabriela Bryan, and India Johnson in the final. She also qualified for the 2022 CT, after starting the final Challenger Series event ranked thirteenth. That is quite a run.
I know you are all so terribly nostalgic already for the old men’s Triple Crown, but that’s so totally over. We have women’s Haleiwa now! Suck it, bros!
On the subject of the new-school Triple Crown, however, I do find it hilarious that no one in surfing seems to know what to call surfboards that aren’t thrusters.
Progressive? Alternative? Metal?
Really, someone with a brain, which won’t be me, should probably figure this whole thing out. We can also just keep making caveman-like grunting sounds and pointing to the fins like, look, surfboard, has some fins, goes fast. It’s fine. We’ll survive either way.
Back to Women’s Haleiwa.
There were plenty of surprises. I have enjoyed this women’s Challenger Series for the tight rankings, hard-fought heats, new-to-me surfers, and unexpected performances. It’s been a good time.
Opening round two, Alyssa Spencer narrowly beat Moore. Spencer’s backhand looks spicy, and it propelled her through to the semifinals. Once there in a rematch with Moore, Spencer couldn’t make lightning strike twice. She went out, after finishing third behind the five-time world champ and Bryan.
I can’t find exact stats for Caity Simmers, but she is a very small human. Reportedly, she was nervous about surfing Hawaii, and she looked uncharacteristically tentative out there in her round two heat. For such a tiny flea, Simmers sure as fuck can bury a rail. But she couldn’t quite put the pieces together out at Haleiwa and went out in round three. All the same, the creative Simmers should be fun to watch on the CT next year.
In heat four, Dimity Stoyle came down off the top to discover Leticia Canales Bilbao paddling directly through her line. It was a Wavestorm move from Canales, really, and she should have been paying more attention to the surfer coming down the line. An obviously angry Stoyle gave her a talking-to out the back. The judges didn’t rule it an interference, but it potentially cost Stoyle her chance to advance.
The final heat of round two packed a punch with Johnson, Caroline Marks, Coco Ho, and Amuro Tsuzuki. Johnson threw down hard and won it with a 16.23 heat score. Marks looked underpowered, much as she did during the 2021 CT events. She finished fourth. It’d be nice to see her find the same smash she brought to her rookie year on Tour.
Meanwhile, it was a heartbreaker for Ho. She narrowly missed advancing after leaving the door open with a 4.73 back-up score. A savvy heat surfer, Tsuzuki beat her and put an end to Ho’s hopes of requalifying.
I’ll be honest and admit I went to lunch during the quarterfinals. I never claimed that I would watch every heat!
Sometimes, a girl just needs a sandwich. You know how it is.
In the first semi, the two Hawaiians Bryan and Moore ruled it. Moore won it in commanding style with a pair of eight’s. Bryan left the door open slightly, with a 7 and a 4.5, but neither Spencer nor Tahitian Vahine Fierro could overtake her. In another heartbreaker, Fierro only needed to make one more heat to qualify.
The second semifinal? So close. Johnson took an early lead, only to have Robinson overtake her by less than a point. Both advanced. Robinson has power to burn and a weirdly hypnotic full body twerk in her turns.
In her comeback event, Peterson put up the highest single wave score of the heat, but couldn’t back it up. Her never-say-die heat strategy was on full display and Peterson kept scrapping until the buzzer.
Picklum, meanwhile, never found her rhythm in the increasingly storm-fucked conditions and didn’t put up a challenge to the leading duo. That came as a surprise to me, after seeing her previous heats. Love her style, actually.
By the time the final came around, the wind had turned exuberantly sideshore. The lineup looked messier than ever, with more close-outs than open faces on offer. I love junk surf, as you know. I’m pretty sure I’d have gone for coffee instead.
The final featured a lot of searching for waves and comparatively low scores. Robinson only had a 2.00 heat score. It was not easy to decode out there, is what I’m saying.
But Johnson managed to do it. I remember watching her heats back at Huntington and thinking she needed better waves. She looked overpowered for the Huntington hop. In fucked up Haleiwa, she shined.
The heat started out predictably enough with Moore in the lead. She efficiently put up a pair of five’s, no doubt hoping to better them. Before she could get much further, the hungry pair Johnson and Bryan began chipping away at her lead.
With more than 20 minutes left in the heat, Johnson put up an eight-point ride. And that was the heat. The conditions worsened — rain, wind, locusts, whathaveyou. Bryan found a six to move into second, but there wasn’t much to do out there.
Haleiwa marked Bryan’s third second place finish in the four Challenger Series events. She also won the overall. Winning at home would have been a fairy tale ending for her qualifying campaign.
But it was Johnson who got the fairly tale win at home.
After finishing third in the Challenger Series, Johnson will surf the CT next year.
Rookie nerves aside, she should do well.
New girls on the CT?
Bryan, Johnson, Simmers, Robinson, and Luana Silva all qualified for the first time. After her second place finish in the CS, Brisa Hennessey is back on Tour. In a painful twist of the knife, Picklum finished equal on points with Silva, but just missed the cut, thanks to Silva’s higher event results. That has to smart.
See y’all at Pipe Masters!