The opening day of the Vans World Cup, the second event of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing and final stop on the World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS), took place at the point at Sunset Beach in head-high surf. Athletes' versatility was put to the test in the complex lineup, and top advancements included recent Pe‘ahi Challenge winner Billy Kemper (HAW). Wave selection and snappy performances were critical in today's conditions, as the notorious big wave venue delivered uncharacteristically modest albeit contestable, fun surf for eager competitors.
Kemper, a big wave expert and back-to-back champion at Jaws, dropped one of the higher scores of the day - a 7.50 - for a few powerful maneuvers on his opening ride in Round One Heat 8. Originally from Maui but living on Oahu since the age of eight, Kemper, 26, has grown up surfing Sunset and likens it to the infamous big wave venue on the Valley Isle.
"It's just like Jaws, the more time you put in the more things you learn about it," said Kemper. "And to tell you the truth it's a really similar kind of peak, Sunset Point and Jaws, as far as the inside west bowl and the outside north chip shot in, it's somewhat similar. It's a totally different day, I'm riding a 6'2 today and at Jaws I was riding a 10'2 so it's a bit different. I'm just having fun."
Veteran knowledge and wave selection aided in Kemper's heat win, where he matched up with Charles Martin (GLP), who also advanced.
"It's probably the most difficult wave to learn on the North Shore, but that's the pride of surfing it, you're always learning something new," finished Kemper.
The highest score of the day went to Carlos Munoz (CRI), for navigating a steep set wave with critical sections. A loose first snap set a confident tone, then Munoz followed up with three more powerful turns and judges rewarded the ride with an excellent 8.17.
"First of all I'm very happy to be in one more contest here in Hawaii," said Munoz. "Today it's tough conditions, really small on the point, I've never surfed these kinds of waves, every time I've surfed Sunset it's big and long walls, but I'm really psyching just to make it through."
Young gun Noa Mizuno (HAW) stayed busy in the 25-minute heat against Michael Dunphy (USA), Olamana Eleogram (HAW) and Samuel Pupo (BRA) and manufactured two mid-range scores - a 5.17 and 4.17 - to advance behind Dunphy. Mizuno, 18, claimed the Hawaii Junior Champion title in October and qualified for the Vans Triple Crown for his rookie year.
"There's no expectations, I think it's just about putting on a good performance," said Mizuno. "I feel like I could have picked better waves, but I felt on point and my boards feel really good. I'm just going to take it heat by heat, wave by wave and work on wave selection, since that is key to getting good scores. Once good performance comes out, that's when results come out as well."
"It's only going to get harder now, so I'm not focusing too much on the competition," continued Mizuno. "I'm just focusing more on myself and what I can improve on. I just have to surf well, focus on my wave selection and hopefully I'll be on my way."
Hawaii surfers Koa Smith and Elijah Gates dismantled the inform surfer from the Caribbean Island of St. Barthelemy, Dimitri Ouvre and Brazil's Robson Santos in Round One Heat 5. Smith exercised patience after securing a 5.83 on his opening ride and backed that up with a 4.40 with sharp backhand surfing. Smith secured the heat win by .03 points ahead of Gates, who surfed with commitment and secured two 5-point rides.
A new NW swell is forecast to quickly build Thursday night and peak Friday with 10-15 foot faces at Sunset and occasional bigger sets pulsing through the lineup. Content organizers are anticipating a weekend of good surf, but will reconvene tomorrow morning and determine a call for the day by 7am HST. Once competition resumes, Round Two will complete along with the first heat of Round Three.