U.S. Open of Surfing, Day 4: Waves Dwindle, But Kelly Slater and Crew Still Impress [PHOTOS]

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Chasen Marshall/OC Weekly
Pat Gudauskas lays into an HB mini.
It was one of those days on the south side of the Huntington Beach pier when a recreational surfer might pull into the parking lot, see the small, windblown, inconsistent waves on offer and either drive elsewhere or head home. Surfers competing in the Nike U.S. Open of Surfing didn't have that luxury. 

Today was an example of why professionals get paid to do what they do: where we see windblown nothings, they see launch ramps. One surfer, in particular, felt completely at home in the so-so conditions.

"This is my DNA," said Kelly Slater after his heat win. "I grew up in shitty waves. Today is like a good day in the summer in Florida."

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Chasen Marshall/OC Weekly
When you're the 10-times world champ, you get special treatment.
Of the 16 heats from the men's draw run today, Heat 12 was certainly the most anticipated. Slater, the most famous and accomplished surfer of all time, was slated to compete. By the time he was in the on-deck circle, the crowd numbers surged to four-times its number. When he appeared out of the competitor's area, he was wearing the orange singlet. He walked along a sandy fairway, lined with human bodies, all the way out to the lineup. 

"I guess when you're the 10-time world champ, people know who you are," said Peter "PT" Townend, from the commentary booth.

Slater caught an early left at "Machado's Left," as the unpredictable peak on the south end of the contest area has long been known, and then paddled over to the rest of the pack and paddled some more, mostly without result. And then the miraculous wave from nowhere arrived and the high score he needed was his.

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Chasen Marshall/OC Weekly
Kelly Slater takes flight, advancing into Round 2.
There were others, besides Slater, who found opportunity in the meager conditions that are somewhat of a hallmark of U.S. Open season. Brazilian Gabriel Medina--a dark-haired 17-year-old with aerials variations aplenty--launched one of the highest airs of the event in Heat 3. Australian Taj Burrow, a top five World Tour talent, put in a blue-collar effort, muscling through worthless wave after worthless wave before finding a few with true scoring potential. In Pat and Tanner Gudauskas' heat, 48 waves were ridden, and the majority were by the brothers, who treated their heat like a casual surf session at T-Street in San Clemente, their local spot.

Beginning at 7:30 tomorrow morning, the men's heats reconvene with the remainder of the Round 1 draw. A swell is rumored to be coming. The wow-factor will only increase.

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Chasen Marshall/OC Weekly
If it wasn't for Slater, Dane Reynolds (orange singlet) would probably be the biggest name in surfing. Hence, the autograph hounds.
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Chasen Marshall/OC Weekly
It's Tuesday -- does anybody work anymore?
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