It was clear from early in his Round 1 heat that Brett Simpson wasn't entirely himself. After securing a solid score on his first wave, giving the feeling he was ready for another deep run in the Nike U.S. Open of Surfing, he came racing across an inside bowling-left on his second wave. He found his ramp and went flying into the air, his left hand grabbing his rail near the nose. It looked like the type of maneuver he'd done so many times prior while surfing the pier, his local break.
Then he landed. The nose of his board dug into the white water, and he fell forward. “I usually like to get a quick start,” he said afterward. “[Falling on that wave is] the difference between a two and a seven [point score].”
As the final seconds of heat ticked off the clock, the man known as Simpo slammed his fist into his board. On the beach, the collective hopes of supporters, contest brass and the media, all hoping for a three-peat storyline, fell by the wayside.
“I do better when I'm just focused on the fewest things possible,” he said, after explaining over-thinking the pressure to perform, his equipment and his heat strategy.
The waves were a challenge to everyone who had to pull on the singlet on Day 5 of the nine-day event. The anticipated swell didn't really deliver the conditions most had hoped. The waves were smaller and less consistent than Tuesday, when it seemed to be HB at its near worst.
John John Florence was among the two surfers to advance out of the heat. He received a congratulatory hug and a “thank you” from Kolohe Andino in the competitor's area afterward.
“[Simpson] is so good out here, he knows this wave so well, and he's such a good surfer,” Florence said. “I was kind of nervous when I saw I got his heat in the draw, but I tried not to think about it.”
Simpson wasn't the lone popular casualty in the early going of Day 5. Two heats prior to Simpson's fall, Joel Parkinson, who's No. 1 on the ASP World Tour, and crowd-favorite Rob Machado also were sent packing after finishing at the bottom of Heat 20.