After 11 months and 58 events, the 2017 Qualification Series culminated a few weeks ago at the Vans World Cup on Oahu's North Shore. Won by a rampaging Conner Coffin, the Sunset Beach event was just another reminder of the many things that make the Qualifying Series so compelling. Chock full of hope and heartbreak, when it comes to dramatic tales, the World Cup rarely disappoints. Rising above the rest this year, however, may be the story of Patrick Gudauskas' late-season charge toward Championship Tour qualification.
Gudauskas, getting back to the beach after a set. WSL / Andew Nichols
Prior to the World Cup, we broke down a short list of qualification dark horses heading into the event at Sunset Beach. Of the five long shots profiled, only Gudauskas surfed his way into qualification contention at Sunset. Going into the Vans World Cup event at Sunset Beach, Gudauskas was ranked No. 17 on the QS.
The Qualifying Series is always a game of inches, even on a big playing field like Sunset Beach. WSL / Keoki Saguibo
At Sunset, he went on another respectable tear, hunting precious points. The gut-wrenching situation is one the former CT campaigner knows all too well. "We're kind of always fighting for it in the gladiator pit of Sunset, you know... I love it. I think it's by far the best wave on the QS tour and it's just the proving ground. Like I think if you got to put your back against the wall and deliver out there, it really is kind of a showcase of your ability and your experience in Hawaii. So, I enjoy it. It's not optimal to be in that position, but I definitely don't turn my back to it, you know?"
Gudauskas finished 4th in Semifinal 2 at the World Cup with 12.00 total points. In that same heat Barron Mamiya finished in 3rd place, .04 points in front of Gudauskas. That was the difference between 200 extra ratings points, which would have put him right in the safe zone to return to the Championship Tour. After a season's worth of grinding and battling, for Pat, it all boiled down to four one-hundredths of a point.
Gudauskas will be joining Brazilian rookie Tomas Hermes on the Championship Tour in 2018. WSL / Jackson Van Kirk
"When I first fell off Tour I was like, 'This is going to be super easy to get back on Tour' because I felt like I had such a great performance. Then I realized that QS is the gnarliest thing ever. It's so freaking challenging because the waves, you know? There's never really a rhyme or reason and...you show up to an event and a hundred guys, any guy can win the event on any given day."
Gudauskas gets comfy during the Pipe Invitational. WSL / Damien Poullenot
Fortunately, the story didn't end there for Gudauskas. He just needed a little help from Italo Ferreira. He still stood a good chance of last minute qualification, as the QS Top 10 had two CT surfers who ultimately made the CT's Top 22 cutoff, thus double qualifying and opening up two spots for QS qualifiers. Fellow Californian Kanoa Igarashi finished ranked No. 17 on the CT's Jeep Leaderboard, while Ferreira sat on the bubble.
Guess who was Ferreira's biggest booster during the Pipe Masters?
That's right, the Positive Vibe Warrior himself.
In the end, Ferreira needed every ounce of extra mojo he could get. Long-shot qualifier Ian Gouveia mounted a heroic finals day run, needing to make the Final to pass Ferreira on the CT rankings, only to have his dreams quashed by John John Florence in the Semis. Ferreira placed 5th at Pipe, good enough to secure world No. 22 and put a button on the Californian's unlikely quest.
As a result, Gudauskas was the last man to get in on the 2018 Championship Tour roster by way of the QS, and that's a feat worth celebrating.
Gudauskas, who is also a former Big Wave Tour competitor, will be returning to the Championship Tour with a well-rounded approach. He's lethal in conditions from two feet to 20. WSL / Kenneth Morris