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The opening rounds of the World Surf League (WSL) Men’s Qualifying Series (QS) Vans US Open of Surfing QS 10,000 ripped into action at the famed Huntington Beach Pier. Four-to-five foot (1.5 - 2 metres) swell filled into the pier and competitors reveled in the conditions on offer with high-performance surfing throughout the day. Rounds 1 and 2 (Heats 1 - 8) were contested with top seeds beginning to make their debuts in defining fashion.
Championship Tour (CT) veteran Jeremy Flores (FRA) went to work as soon as the opening horn sounded. The Frenchman blasted two massive backhand attacks on one of the bigger set waves that came through Huntington Beach’s lineup in critical sections that earned him a near-perfect 9.17 (out of a possible 10). The single-scoring wave was the highest of today along with his excellent 16.20 (out of a possible 20) heat total that rocketed him into Round 3 in great form. Flores continually returns to Huntington and has posted some memorable results, but has not earned better than an equal 13th since 2010. Flores will work to find his rhythm this year and break through to the Final series.
“I’ve been coming here for a while now and already made that Final with CJ [Hobgood] and had some good results when I was 16, 17, and 18 years-old, but the last five years I’ve barely made any heats,” Flores said. “I’m just trying to take it differently this year and I haven’t had time to surf this wave in recent years, so I’d rather not surf it until my heats. That was my strategy coming in and it worked out in that first heat. When it comes to a break you may not surf well at this point in your career, I think it’s best to not surf it and just keep that energy for the competition. It’d be amazing to win here with all the legends who have already gotten titles and I remember growing up watching this event with all the best surfers winning here.”
2016 Vans US Open of Surfing runner-up Ethan Ewing (AUS) found his form at Huntington once again with a massive backhand smash on the outside and finished his efforts in shallow waters for an excellent 8.47. The 18-year-old hasn’t found any results during his rookie year on the Championship Tour (CT) and will have to shift his focus toward the QS for re-qualification. But, he’s never one to count out, especially at the beachbreak that help propel him toward CT qualification last year.
“I caught a left toward the pier and did my first turn then I didn’t think I was that close when I went for my second, and when I fell it just dragged me,” said Ewing. “I was just focusing on going out there and trying to catch the best waves and get a quick start to build on. All those guys are so deadly and I just wanted to focus on my own game plan. On the CT, it’s just a matter of confidence. Honestly, I’ve had great waves, but just couldn’t back them up and it’s a completely different game at that level compared to here on the QS. I’m just enjoying my time there competing against my favorite surfers and gaining all that experience.”
Ethan Ewing. Photo: WSL / Morris
Alejo Muniz (BRA) played spoiler for the hometown crowd by topping Kanoa Igarashi (USA), who will still advance into Round 3 in the runner-up position. Muniz exhibited his his signature, spry surfing that earned him an 8.33 and 7.00. The former CT competitor is looking to find his way back on the Dream Tour alongside his fellow Brazilian contingent and needs a big result here to help him do so -- currently sitting at No. 18 on the QS rankings.
“I think this is the best swell we’ve had here the last three or four years and usually this time of day with a higher tide it’s harder to find good waves, but with this swell it’s just amazing out there,” Muniz said. “I was psyching to go out there and surf just watching the conditions all morning. It’s always hard to surf against a local, especially Kanoa [Igarashi] because he’s an amazing surfer and before my heat thought maybe I’ll sit close to him and see he does. But, I saw where he started the heat and I wanted to sit somewhere else and it paid off so I could get my first good wave.”
Last year’s Pipe Invitational winner Finn McGill (HAW) started his Vans US Open campaign in brilliant form with Round 1’s highest heat total of a 15.57. The North Shore, Oahu native found the classic pier bowl lefts and unloaded his brilliant backhand attack on two critical sections to earn an excellent 8.17. The 17-year-old showed nerves of steel at a young age in the southside arena -- something he will need moving forward this week.
Hawaii's Finn McGill. Photo: WSL / Morris
“I went into the heat not really expecting much and I didn’t do well on my first few waves, and made some priority mistakes,” McGill said. “But, I’ve surfed here my whole life so I really know the wave well and that left going into the pier suits my style. I just relied on that and ended up catching a few to get some good turns so I’m stoked with that. I learned from those mistakes and just waited for the right ones which ended up working out. Luckily the crowds never get to me, I don’t really get nervous and just have that tunnel vision when I’m surfing heats.”
Kolohe Andino (USA) has surfed the southside of Huntington Beach’s pier in countless events from amateur to the QS 10,000 level and claimed many victories, but has yet to claim a Vans US Open title. The CT competitor looked loose and in-form on his backhand, while also looking to take to the air on multiple occasions for a chance at big numbers. Andino earned a 7.50 and 7.47 en route to a big heat win over 2015 Vans US Open winner, and heat runner-up Hiroto Ohhara (JPN), Alex Ribeiro (BRA), and former World Junior Champion Vasco Ribiero (PRT).
“I was just trying to let it come to me for either a backhand attack or fronthand air,” Andino stated. “I just wanted to show everyone I can do big airs because sometimes the competition side takes it away from me and doesn’t give me that much opportunity. The first-ever QS event I won here was a QS 4,000 with Adriano De Souza, Taylor Knox, and Damien Hobgood in the Final. That same year I won the Pro Junior as well so that was sweet event for me and probably one of the biggest moments of my career after just turning 16-years-old that week. I have a lot of good memories here even though I haven’t made it past Quarterfinals the last two years, but I love competing here.”
Kolohe and fans. Photo: WSL / Rowland
Other top seeds who found their way into Round 3 include rising threat Victor Bernardo (BRA) alongside CT competitors Sebastian Zeitz (HAW), Josh Kerr (AUS), Joan Duru (FRA), Stuart Kennedy (AUS). Former CT competitors Aritz Aranburu (PRT), Davey Cathels (AUS), and Ryan Callinan (AUS) will also surf again in the next round.
The Vans US Open of Surfing will recommence tomorrow with Rounds 1 and 2 of the Women’s Championship Tour (CT) starting at 7:30 a.m. PST, followed by Round 2 (H9-13) of the Men's QS 10,000.
Heat 1: Vasco Ribeiro (PRT) 12.24, Tanner Hendrickson (HAW) 11.80, Matthew Gillivray (ZAF) 11.06, Jonathan Gonzalez (CNY) 9.77
Heat 2: Luel Felpie (BRA) 11.83, Timothee Bisso (GLP) 11.67, Reo Inaba (JPN) 8.57, Mason Ho (HAW) 4.33
Heat 3: Leandro Usuna (ARG) 11.80, Hiroto Arai (JPN) 11.64, Jacob Wilcox (AUS) 11.04, Shane Holmes (AUS) 7.30
Heat 4: Marco Fernandez (BRA) 14.17, Shun Murakami (JPN) 9.70, O’Neil Massin (PYF) 8.93, Brent Dorrington (AUS) 8.50
Heat 5: Mikey Wright (AUS) 12.96, Charly Martin (FRA) 11.96, Pedro Henrique (PRT) 10.64, Nolan Rapoza (USA) 10.37
Heat 6: Noe Mar McGonagle (CRI) 13.97, Mateia Hiquily (PYF) 12.66, Eli Olson (HAW) 7.74, Robson Santos (BRA) 7.34
Heat 7: Finn McGill (HAW) 15.57, David do Carmo (BRA) 1197, Jack Robinson (AUS) 11.73, Kilian Garland (USA) 9.40
Heat 8: Jorgann Couzinet (FRA) 11.97, Kiron Jabour (HAW) 11.97, Nomme Mignot (FRA) 11.34, Cody Young (HAW) 9.27
Heat 1: Kolohe Andino (USA) 15.17, Hiroto Ohhara (JPN) 13.73, Alex Ribeiro (BRA) 12.60, Vasco Ribeiro (PRT) 10.73
Heat 2: Ethan Ewing (AUS) 13.80, Ryan Callinan (AUS) 13.17, Miguel Tudela (PER) 11.96, Samuel Pupo (BRA) 9.50
Heat 3: Alejo Muniz (BRA) 15.33, Kanoa Igarashi (USA) 14.13, Willian Cardoso (BRA) 12.90, Tanner Hendrickson (USA) 10.07
Heat 4: Joan Duru (FRA) 12.73, Ricardo Christie (NZL) 12.30, Luel Felipe (BRA) 9.60, Mitch Coleborn (AUS) 6.66
Heat 5: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 16.20, Davey Cathels (AUS) 14.67, Dion Atkinson (AUS) 10.23, Timothee Bisso (GLP) 7.10
Heat 6: Stuart Kennedy (AUS) 14.10, Lucas Silveira (BRA) 11.64, Cooper Chapman (AUS) 11.36, Kyuss King (AUS) 7.93
Heat 7: Josh Kerr (AUS) 15.67, Aritz Aranburu (ESP) 12.80, Deivid Silva (BRA) 11.46, Kai Otton (AUS) 10.50
Heat 8: Victor Bernardo (BRA) 12.37, Sebastian ZIetz (HAW) 11.53, Wade Carmichael (AUS) 11.40, Leandro Usuna (ARG) 9.43
Big crowds at Surf City USA. Photo: WSL / Rowland