Aussie surfer Liam O’Brien was the Vans US Open’s biggest surprise packet. Whilst the natural footer was defeated by Yago Dora in the Final his performances over the course of the week showed that he has the talent, and the competitive smarts, to go all the way. But who is he? And where did he come from? Here’s some fun facts you probably need to know. 

This Was No Fluke

O’Brien surfed through from Round 1, progressing through seven heats before he as stopped by Dora. On the way to the Final he defeated the favourite and back-to-back defending event winner, Kanoa Igarashi plus Jack Freestone, Barron Mamiya and Griffin Colapinto. Yep, he did it the hard way. 

His Junior Career Wasn’t That Flash

O’Brien’s best junior finish was 6th on the Australian Tour back in 2017 after he had finished 20th the year before. Unlike some of the more bigger names, he has never surfed in the World Junior Championships. 

He’s Won On The QS Before

O’Brien has had more success on the QS than the juniors, already clocking four QS victories in his short career including three last year. Sure, they were all QS1000 contests, but many top level surfers go through careers not winning any titles. 

Have We Been Here Before?

In 2016 the then 17-year-old Ethan Ewing made the Final of the US Vans Open on the way to qualifying for the CT in his first serious crack in the QS. 18-year old O’Brien shares the same major sponsor and shaper as Ewing, and his smooth Burleigh-groomed style and mix of power rail turns and big airs too resembles the Stradbroke starlet. 

So Can He Qualify? 

The 8,000 points generated in Huntington saw him jump 45 QS places and into the qualification position at 10th. There is still a long way to go, but with an improved seed in the two next QS10,000 in Europe coming up soon, there’s every chance he could lock in a CT spot before it comes to the crunch in Hawaii.

Editor in Chief

As with any Gen-Z surfers worth his chicken salt, O’Brien curates his own content. He pulled together his last drop, called Incongruence, doing everything but the filming. At just less than three minutes the clip is worth revisiting. It shows the mix of clean surfing and explosive rotors that have seen him suddenly thrust into the bright Californian spotlight. 

He’s Pretty Grounded

With good sponsor backing, help from experience coach Rainos Hayes and a sound attitude that means he is not getting ahead of himself, O’Brien seems to have the maturity to cope with his sudden rise up the rankings. “I'm so thankful for this opportunity and to come as far as I did. To make it through some of the heats I did, I can't believe it,” he said after the Final. “I'll keep working to improve my surfing as much as I can and to be into the QS 10,000s coming up is such an amazing feeling so I'm just really grateful."