The World Surf League (WSL) Ron Jon Vans Pro completed today with more incredible surfing in what remained of a fading two-to-three foot southeast windswell. The sandbars of Shepard Park provided just enough for competitors to showcase their championship form. It was a historical day for Taylor Clark (USA) as he claimed his first Qualifying Series (QS) victory amidst a stacked field of competition.
When all was said and done, Clark emerged the Ron Jon Vans Pro Men's QS1000 Champion in dramatic fashion. Earning a 5.13 in the final ten seconds, Clark edged out Jake Marshall (USA) for his maiden QS victory and capped off an amazing opening campaign toward the 2016 season.
"This was the main reason I came here was to make a Final and then try to win it so I'm beyond stoked to do that," Clark said. "I was so excited that last wave came through and gave me a chance, I would've been happy for Jake if he'd won but I just don't know how that worked out. It's pretty good points if you take it all the way to the last heat and since I'm not in the bigger events this year that helped so much. To have a Final against Jake was so great, he's one of my best friends and we surf together all the time so I couldn't be happier right now."
Clark did not have an easy road to the Final, having to face an in-form Josh Burke (BRB) in the Semifinals and Brazilian threat Gabriel Andre (BRA) early on in the Quarterfinals. But, he continued to find himself in the right spots as the swell began deteriorating and was able to claim a massive victory.
"I was really just trying to take it heat by heat through the day and not get ahead of myself which is something I tend to do," Clark said. "You just have to worry about the waves that are in front of you and not think about the tide or what's going to happen in later heats. Now that I have that win I'm going to get on the grind and compete in Martinique and also Japan so I'm really excited to get this year started."
A mere ten seconds away from victory, Jake Marshall (USA) was relegated to runner-up but was elated with his surfing in this event. Helping chair-up Clark to the winner's area, Marshall showed his excitement in and out of the water with an incredible campaign in Cocoa Beach, Fla. - also competing in his first QS Final.
"I'm so excited to get a result here and of course it's a bummer to go down in the Final but regardless, it's my best result in a QS and that feels amazing," Marshall said. "There were a lot of really good guys here and I've just been working so hard over the last six months to keep up - it's great to see it pay off. By the end of this event heading into the Final I was feeling really confident after dropping some good scores and knew I just needed to be on the best waves. Taylor just got that last little wave in the very end and milked it all the way in so that was incredible to see one of my good friends do so well under that kind of pressure and just congrats to him."
After a phenomenal showing throughout the event, Brian Toth (PRI) bowed out to the tactical surfing of Jake Marshall (USA) in a tight heat. Trading lead changes multiple times, Marshall capitalized on the Puerto Rican veterans only mistake of the heat. The reigning North American champion came out of the water retaining his great spirits and is set for a great year.
"I'm stoked to make the Semis even though I was gunning to make the Final - I was feeling good the whole time and I knew it was going to be a good one with Jake going into that one," Toth said. "He does well in all types of conditions and I just didn't want to give him any chances on the sets but I took the wrong wave and he was able to make me pay for it. Other than that priority mistake I felt great about my surfing scoring an 8 and 6 so I'm pretty happy with that last performance."
Posting excellent scores during his Ron Jon Vans Pro campaign, including Round 4's highest heat total of 15.17, Josh Burke (BRB) looked poised to do well in the Semifinals after a battle with Dylan Southworth (MEX) in Quarterfinal action. But, it was Taylor Clark (USA) who continued his clutch surfing and relinquished the Bajan of his Finals hopes in a nail-biter Semis battle.
"I'm a little disappointed not to make the Final but I feel like I still surfed really well except for one mistake sitting too far inside," Burke said. "Taylor got on that outside wave that really opened up and he scored an 8 so that was the only thing I thought I could've done better. I think my strategies have gotten better which is something I've worked on a lot and I've always done well here - can't wait to come back next year."