After enduring some flat and rainy days the North Shore of Oahu, the Vans World Cup of Surfing finally got underway Tuesday at Sunset Beach, where eager Qualifying Series surfers are clashing in the final battle of the 2016 season.
Heading into the high-stakes, QS10,000-level event, more than 40 surfers were, mathematically speaking, still within reach of precious spots on the 2017 Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour. Of those, a handful were already eliminated in Round One.
As usual, Sunset served up its usual dose of humble pie to eager QS hopefuls, nerve-wracked CT qualifiers and Triple Crown veterans alike. Tactics and gamesmanship were on full display today, with tricky, windy head-high-plus conditions at Sunset Point taking its toll on the uninitiated or unlucky.
Nearly gale-force trade winds and a significant distance from the beach complicated things for competitors attempting to hear the PA announcer and know their scores and situations.
It wasn't challenging conditions that resulted in perhaps the day's biggest elimination, however. Hobbled by a nagging knee injury and a fresh ankle sprain (from a freesurf session at Rocky Point) Brazilian Tomas Hermes, currently No. 11 on the QS rankings, lost in Round Two Heat One, which surely doesn't bode well for his qualification campaign. He'll need bad losses from seeds in a similar position and substantial amounts of Lady Luck on his side to make a return to the Dream Tour.
Standouts on the day included back-to-back Pe'ahi Challenge Champ Billy Kemper and Costa Rican Carlos Muñoz, who posted Round One's highest wave score of 8.17 on a hooking, bowly wedger that allowed for four fierce turns. Kemper, too, showed off his small-wave skills at a temperamental wave with which he's very familiar. "This is like my second backyard, I love this wave," said Kemper, who won the HIC Pro at Sunset in 2010. "It's probably the most difficult wave to learn on the North Shore, and it was wave selection that did it for me to take my heat."
Young Hawaiian Josh Moniz, son of legendary Hawaiian waterman Tony Moniz, was outstanding as well, and his local knowledge paid off. "It's pretty tough out there and I find it harder to surf Sunset when it's small than when it's big," Josh told the WSL. "But I knew what I wanted to do… It's tricky because there's two peaks, you have to pick your peak and live with it."
Be sure to check back in Friday morning, as a large -- albeit short -- swell is forecast to arrive and rattle the cages of higher-ranked seeds in Rounds Two and Three.