After several days off and multiple holds as event organizers waited for waves, the Maui Women's Pro kicked back into gear Friday with small-scale but workable surf. The women made the most of what Honolua offered, ripping up every scrap in Rounds Three and Four.
The playful conditions, however, belied the gravity of what was at stake for a handful of the women there. As the last Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour (CT) event of the year, Maui packs a sucker-punch of pressure for the surfers who are scrambling to keep their jobs next year. On the women's CT, only the Top 10 on the rankings at the end of the season get to stay on the roster. Those ranked No. 11 and below are either bounced back to the Qualifying Series (QS), or must make the Top 6 on the QS rankings to secure a spot.
Of the women whose fates could go either way, a few rose to the occasion, one caused the biggest upset of the day, and one will be grinding her way back up the QS ranks next year.
The biggest nail-biter of the day belonged to Bianca Buitendag and Lakey Peterson in Round Four. Peterson missed most of the season because of an ankle injury and is expected to get a wildcard spot on the tour in 2017. But Buitendag, who has been Top 10 finisher since she joined the tour, has to win the Maui Pro to stay there.
Putting everyone on the edges of their seats -- including commentator Ronnie Blakey, who admitted he had serious nerves over the matchup -- Buitendag lagged behind Peterson for almost the entire heat. As Peterson deployed her signature, energetic hacks and bounced her way down wave after wave, Buitendag took the tortoise approach, sitting patiently after the scores stacked up against her. But as the final minutes ticked down, she made her move, squeezing the life out of the wave of the heat to score an 8.33, take the win and move on the Quarters. (Exhale.)
Among the day's other triumphs, tour vet Coco Ho and rookie Keely Andrew were also heroes of Honolua. Ho, whose heat win there last year famously won the World Title for Carissa Moore, transcended herself yet again, taking down new Champ Tyler Wright in Round Three.
Sitting No. 13 on the CT and No. 6 on the QS, Ho is all but guaranteed a spot back on tour. While she'll requalify by the skin of her teeth, making the Quarterfinals in Maui is huge coup, and a big confidence-boost if nothing else.
Andrew, meanwhile, who turned 21 today, was the next woman to take down a titan when she eliminated Stephanie Gilmore in Round Four. While Andrew is assured a spot on the 2017 CT through her QS ranking (equal-second), her results on the elite tour have been spotty. Making it to the Quarters in Maui reveals what she's capable of, even in the face of a six-time World Champion like Gilmore.
There was, however, some heartbreak at Honolua, too. Tour veteran Alessa Quizon lost her Round Four heat to friend and fellow Oahu native Carissa Moore. With that devastating defeat, Quizon will not be able to requalify for 2017, and must hit the ground running on the QS when the new season begins. While the agile Hawaiian has often been close to losing her spot at this time of year, she's been able to lean on strong QS results to return to the CT again and again.
When the contest resumes with the Quarterfinals, Andrew will face Ho and Buitendag will face World No. 2 Courtney Conlogue, among the other matchups. Watch live daily starting at 7:30 a.m. HST.