The first day of competition for the World Surf League (WSL) North America Longboard Championships began in clean, two-to-three foot waves Saturday, as the deep early morning high tide drained to a shallow low by the afternoon heats. Using a Round Robin format, both the Men and Women surfed two rounds; each competitor surfing twice, with their top three waves from either heat complied to determine their total for the day. The Top 8 competitors in both divisions have advanced through to tomorrow morning's Quarterfinal heats.
Two-time WSL World Longboard Champion Taylor Jensen (USA) showed his first-class style, ending the day atop the Men's leaderboard with a 27.35 (out of a possible 30) total. This being the first time competitors have participated in this style format, many of them relish the opportunity to be guaranteed two heats and Jensen took full advantage.
"I think the format works really well -- especially given it's the first contest in a few years," Jensen said. "Everybody gets two shots, so if you have a flat heat or even a stacked heat it doesn't really matter. There wasn't any seeding so it gave everyone a fair shot and I think we were all happy with how the day worked out."
Jensen already has a world title year in the making, earning three wins in different regions, and continues that success knowing what to expect here at the Huntington Beach Pier - applying his strategy each heat.
"It's been a good year and I'm happy to say I've had a few good ones in a row it feels like," Jensen said. "It's Huntington so you just have to get busy. If it doesn't look like it'll close out you just go regardless of what the tide's doing and hope for the best. It's really a numbers game out here. The more waves you catch the more chances you have of it not being a dud and might actually run on."
While Jensen is already qualified for a spot at next month's Jeep World Longboard Championships in Hainan Island, China, Orange County surfer Steve Newton (USA) is among the field looking to earn a spot with a big result here in Huntington. Finishing the day at No. 3 on the leaderboard, Newton is in strong contention to be representing his hometown at the World Championships, with two qualification spots available to the Men's competitors.
"I'm really excited that this event is near my hometown -- I live right down the beach in Newport and surf here almost every single day after work," Newton said. "In the first round the tide was higher and the walls were cleaner. With the tide change it's a little different and we're dealing with a lot of closeouts so I think that was the big difference between rounds, but I was stoked to replace my 3rd score and improve my overall total. Just to have a shot at a win and a chance at making it to China is an incredible feeling and I can't wait for tomorrow."
Joining the Men at Huntington Beach, the women are battling for just one spot in the Jeep World Longboard Championships. Rachael Tilly (USA) is well on her way to earning her ticket after an impressive performance throughout the day, leading the women as they head into Quarterfinal action.
"I'm happy that I'm doing well so far since I've never surfed in a Round Robin format before and I wasn't really sure what to expect coming into today," Tilly said. "There's a bunch of really good girls so it feels good to be at the top among them and right in the mix. I've been to China twice already so I'm just hoping to requalify. Being over there was such a great experience but I didn't do too well and wasn't able to requalify while I was there so I'm just putting in my all to get back."
Even as one of the youngest in the field, the 17-year-old knows what is required to win events and showed she is fully capable, sharing the highest single-wave score of 7.50 with Jennifer Smith (USA).
"I really tried to mix it up," Tilly said. "After watching the guys I noticed the judges were watching for noserides and turns. On my 7.50 I really tried to stay in the critical sections for my noserides and incorporate some nice turns for the variety they were looking for."
The competition will resume at 8:00am with the Women's Quarterfinals starting off the day. Champions for both the Men and Women will be determined by 2:00pm PDT.
Look for live scoring on the North America Longboard Championships event hub and see who will be the North America Longboard Champion.