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Australian Ethan Ewing made an impressive debut at the Vans US Open Monday, storming through two early round heats that saw him eliminate World No. 9 Julian Wilson along the way. The 17-year-old from North Stradbroke Island is having a breakout year; he won four Junior events and a QS1000 back home in Australia before jumping out on the Qualifying Series full time.
He's since rocketed to No. 6 on the QS, well within striking distance of qualifying for the Championship Tour. Not bad for a kid who's still surfing in the Junior division at The Open as well.
"I'm feeling confident and just trying to stay calm," Ewing said. "I have no idea what the formula is to making these type of four-man heats. Coming up against some of these guys I'm just excited to surf my heats. It'll be good to get a day off tomorrow and hopefully keep it going in the Junior event as well."
Ewing's nickname among peers is "Hybrid" because his surfing is a blend of several Aussie greats; traces of Taj, Fanning, Parko and his other favorite surfer, Andy Irons, can be found in his form.
His dynamic approach is rooted in rapid-fire rail and tail turns, which is one reason why his wins are impressive, after all, most heats on Monday were won on by way of the aerial assault.
As expected, the Brazilian aerial campaign was relentless. Thiago Camarao, Victor Bernardo, and Heitor Alves were just some of the high flying aces. Spain's Gonzalo Zubizarreta was also a big standout who earned back to back wins. Meanwhile Josh Kerr, Pat Gudauskas, and Mitch Colborn all brought their mixed bags.
And lets not forget reigning Vans US Champion Hiroto Ohhara. For some reason we haven't heard much from him since last year. Ohhara is still lingering back in QS obscurity, at World No. 71, but he tapped into last year's magic in his Round Two heat, weaving through the bumpy lineup with lightning speed on his way to besting Pat Gudauskas and eliminating CT star Alejo Muniz.
Kolohe Andino put the finishing touches on a big day with a big air-reverse of his own, lifting him to a victory over the very in-form Jesse Mendes of Brazil. Both advanced to the next round, and look extremely dangerous, but then again, so does everybody.
By all accounts, Ewing seems to be a hit in California. WSL / Van Kirk
Ten years ago these early rounds were near formalities. The dominant players could paddle out blindfolded and still advance due to the huge chasm in talent. Today the gap NO. 8 and No. 80 is minuscule, if it even exist at all. In fact, the upcoming Heat 8 of Round Two is a perfect example; it features CT rookie sensation Caio Ibilli, Margaret River winner Sebastian Zietz, Aussie madman Mitch Crews, and Brazilian whiz kid Victor Bernardo. Any one of them is a potential winner of this event, but two of them will be sent packing Tuesday. That's life on the grind they call the QS.