Kelly Slater gets a lift from the shore after winning the Nike U.S. Open of Surfing. Photos Courtesy of ASP.

10-Time Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) champ, Kelly Slater made a remarkable showing during the Nike U.S. Open of Surfing in the finals August 6 and 7th to claim the top prize and $100,000. It was his first time since winning in 1996 as he defeated a humbled Yadin Nicol who simply couldn’t get a decent wave in the final heat.

Meanwhile earlier on Sunday, Sally Fitzgibbons from Australia, won in the women’s division, which was also the final stop of the 2011 ASP Women’s World Title series, beating out the wildcard Lakey Peterson, who at only 16, also won the Juniors earlier in the week.

Kelly pulling incredible moves in excellent conditions at Huntington Beach, CA.

The U.S. Open, now known as the Nike U.S. Open, also represented Nike’s final push into becoming the title sponsor and debuting the brand as officially entering the action sports space. In the past, the event had been sponsored by a host of surf-related brands, and then more recently, by Hurley (which was bought by Nike several years ago) with co-sponsors Nike 6.0 and Converse. Slowly but surely, Nike moved into the main spot, moving Hurley now out of the title sponsorship placement, which has some people in the surfing industry wondering what just happened to their sport.

Nike’s foray into action sports has been tumultuous over the years with a variety of missteps when entering skateboarding especially, until now, years later, getting it right with 6.0. When they bought Hurley, it was rumored then that it was their entry path into surfing, and that apparently, has happened.

Sally Fitzgibbons wins the women’s division at the U.S. Open of Surfing.

Still, the event was solid, spanning the course of a week, and attracting an estimate 500,000 people who came to the free event for many reasons. The U.S. Open of Surfing includes all sorts of other events such as BMX and skateboarding competitions, an entire festival of activities and other sponsors like Skullcandy, PacSun, G-Shock, Pacifico, Redbull, and Verizon, street art exhibitions, a fashion runway show, and musical performances from bands like The Sounds and MGMT.

Back to how Kelly Slater dominated in the final round, he launched a frontside air-reverse and scored an 8.50.

“I guess Yadin (Nicol) wanted me to win because he didn’t catch any waves,” Slater said. “I was just really frustrated for him because he was sitting out the back waiting for the big sets and the big sets were close outs. The small ones he was just two far outside and I got them. I think what happened is I got the 8.50 to start and he was just going to be patient. If he got a good one he would have thrown a big rotator, but it just never came.”

What was more remarkable than Slater’s final heat was the battle the heat before against Dusty Payne. Slater launched a no-grab backside 360 air (and yes, surfing does sound like skateboarding now). That combo earned him the highest single-wave score of Nike US Open of Surfing competition, 9.77 out of 10.

Sally Fitzgibbons winning it.

Stephanie Fitzgibbons, who finished second on the ASP Women’s World Title Series, was strong on both her forehand and backhand in the final.

“It’s such an unbelievable feeling to get chaired up the beach,” Fitzgibbons said. “There is just a sea of people and it’s one of my biggest achievements. To get three wins this year, it has been a really special year and although I didn’t get the title, I can’t believe I’ve won this event.”

“Today was just about connecting the dots and stepping it up,” Fitzgibbons said. “I think the future is bright for our sport. Lakey is only 16 and she was in both finals in this event it was a great week for her, but to get the win was an amazing way to cap off the year.”

The newly crowned ASP Women’s World Champion Carissa Moore was eventually beaten by Peterson and Fitzgibbons and didn’t make the finals.

Legendary Dogtown photographer and artist Craig Stecyk was on hand with Jeff Ho for autograph sessions.

Overall, it was an amazing week of action sports in “Surf City” Huntington Beach, CA, including the streetwear and action sports-inspired fashion trade show Agenda going on across the street. The only drawback, and not much talked about ending is the prize money, which wasn’t even listed in the last day press release.

Surfing’s dirty secret is that there is often a huge disparity between male and female winning purses. Unlike sports such as snowboarding and events like the U.S. Open (sponsored by Burton) where prize money is the same, surfing events still suffer from female competitors not winning nearly as much (in the case of the U.S. Open, it’s usually half), despite the fact that women surfers generate significant marketing and advertising attention and dollars for the surf brands that sponsor them, and the sport itself could see it’s greatest growth among young females, according to our data.

Let’s hope that with the new generation of women surfers like Lakey Peterson pushing the level of the sport, more attention will be paid to closing the gap between what Kelly Slater won last Sunday, compared with Stephanie Fitzgibbons.

Kelly Slater focusing before his final heat.