The winningest surfer in the history of the ASP World Tour, Kelly Slater, had the finals of the U.S. Open of Surfing within his sights today. In his way, however, was Huntington Beach hero and defending Open champion Brett Simpson, who held on by a mere hundredths of a point to beat the legend in a head-to-head semi-finals heat.
Recap of Simpson's Sunday march to the finals, after the jump.
Hundreds packed the sand and the pier early Sunday to catch a glimpse of the quarter-final and semi-final action unfolding right on the waves in front of them.
Simpson and Slater's semi-final pairing, hands down, was the most epic heat the Open has seen so far over the course of nine days. Up until the final few minutes, the two surfers were practically tied in points, Simpson (13.37) leading Slater (13.34) by a mere .03 points.
Those scores would be the final for the heat, as Slater couldn't pull of an impressive wave in the waning minutes of the matchup.
The heat went back and forth, with Simpson completing a huge air on his second wave. Slater quickly followed with a ridiculous set of moves, a big floater followed up by a 360 degree rotation that got him big points.
Simpson responded with a 360 move of his own on his third wave and then another huge reverse. Slater simply couldn't keep up.
That was Simpson's second close finish of the day. Just a short time earlier, Simpson held off another challenger in Nathaniel Curran, the 2008 Open champion. Both men had tasted victory in this event before, so this heat was a battle right until the end.
For Simpson, this time he was the surfer who was desperately trying to earn points in the final minutes.
On his first wave, Simpson fell and didn't catch another wave for a few minutes; there just weren't any waves to be had.
Curran was solid throughout the heat, but he couldn't land a huge trick to take the lead for good. This left Simpson an opening as time wound down; his 9.27 score at the time was just barely behind Curran's 9.74.
Finally, with very little time left, Simpson rode an impressive final wave to increase his score to 10.14, just ahead of Curran who couldn't land another decent trick.
The ovation from the crowd was huge, cheering both the great competition of the heat and Simpson's miraculous win.
Stay tuned for the men's final later today.