It's not a super comfortable conversation. How to approach yet another year on the QS after alllllmost qualifying for the elite Top 34 Championship Tour. Plain and simple: It's a long-ass year of contests, traveling and fixating on points, numbers and strategy to crack that final top 10 by mid-December.
Indeed, it's an extraordinarily tough tour of absurdly talented athletes all fighting tooth and nail for their ticket. Some guys are surfing better than ever and just can't catch a break, while some kids that aren't even of legal drinking age, like Ethan Ewing, come out of the woodworks and make it look easy. And then, of course, you could win a 10K early on, and just get broken in Hawaii.
"Nobody wants to spend too much time on the QS," says San Clemente's Tanner Gudauskas, who finished No. 14 on the QS. "The level is higher than it's ever been and there's not any more spots on the CT, so it's just…epic. It's like a bloodbath to make it."
Bloodbath, indeed. Tanner actually earned a wildcard into the Hurley Pro CT event earlier in the year and proved his worth by mowing through the world's best before being stopped in the Semis.
We talked with Tanner and a couple other gents that came pretty damn close (but no cigar) to qualifying for the 2017 Samsung Galaxy World Tour. Not surprisingly, they're hungrier than ever.
Jesse Mendes, No. 13
"Well, this isn't my first time that I've come so close actually. This kind of happened two years ago. In 2014, I also won in Portugal, but in the Azores, and by the end of the year I think pressure got the best of me. But this year I feel like my surfing is better than ever. I think I've finally found the boards that fit my surfing really well and I'm in a good place.
I actually got sick during three events this year, so much so that I had to go to the hospital. I didn't know that I was lactose intolerant and pretty much found that out while I was in Japan a couple days before my heat. Then I got sick again in Morocco and had to pull out of the Quarterfinals. Even going to Ballito, the first 10K of the year, I was really sick at the airport in Brazil."
So really, this year it wasn't that I was doing bad in heats, but things were getting into my head outside of them. There was a point where I felt like a lot of things were working against me. But honestly, I'd rather these kinds of things happen now, then if I qualify and it happened while I was on the CT.
For me, Hawaii is a love and hate thing. I've gotten a 5th at Sunset before. I got 9th this year and I've gotten 9th at Haleiwa before, so I always make a few heats there, but it's also a really big field. I actually love it coming down to Hawaii because even though it's difficult, you always know there's going to be waves and you're going to have opportunities to shine on them. But sure, it's always better if you come to Hawaii safe and in a good position in the ratings, and are able to enjoy Hawaii instead of trying to make heats."
Tanner Gudauskas, No. 14
"If I pretended like it didn't sting getting that close, I'd be doing myself a disservice. So I'm facing it head on. I basically looked at my results and I was, like, 90 points from qualifying. Getting a third in the final at Sunset I think would've done it, but I got fourth.
I think my year really started at Lowers, but then every QS I was in afterwards I literally lost in the last few seconds in some ‘effed up situations. Like, in one heat Ian Gouveia needed a 9.4 and got a 9.8 on an air, in another Willian Cardoso surfed a four-banger 50 feet from the shore with 10 seconds left, and then the Griffin Colapinto one at Haleiwa where he pulled an air-reverse and got a 9.9 in the last few seconds.
But I'm pretty fired up still. I think I'm gonna go into next year trying to hang onto that same heat I felt after Lowers and try and start sooner and not have to be in the same situation heading into Hawaii.
I've never finaled before, so going into Hawaii I wanted to make my first final. I even did a trip there separately before the Triple Crown to make sure my boards were feeling good."
But I love Hawaii. I know a lot of guys have that mentality of ‘getting it done' before you get there, but it's almost a weapon to be like, ‘I can't wait for the swell to get massive!' and take advantage of that.
"When I did get that 3rd at Lowers this year, it was like, ‘This is where I should be. I was so stoked and feeling like that comp pushed my surfing to the next level."
"But I really learned things too, of course. For instance with that one heat where Griffin did that air at the end, it was kind of haunting because I had priority. In retrospect, I saw that I shouldn't of taken the set on the spot, but rather should've paddled with Griffin because Stu Kennedy needed a 9.5. Griff just needed, like, a 5. But learning from these events, it's never gonna be a bad thing, it's just an unfortunate roll of the dice and you can hopefully make it into something better."
Evan Geiselman, No. 19
"I think at the moment, I haven't even thought about next year. In the back of my mind I know the stuff that I need to work on by watching footage of my surfing and figuring out how else to achieve more. So I'll work on that in the off-season. But after a year of thinking about events and constantly calculating what you need to do and what scores to get, right now it's just really nice to not have to think about it [laughs].
But I am really psyched to give it a go next year again. There were definitely some opportunities that I missed, but you try to learn from them. There are some heats that I wish I had back. Really, I was almost in shock that I got myself this close this year, considering what happened with my injury at Pipe the year before.
(Evan actually drowned during a freesurf at Pipeline but was saved by lifeguard Andre Botha, and then resuscitated back to life.)
You never want to leave it too open coming in to Hawaii…but you also never know and it could've been a dream run for me in Hawaii. I was just happy to be in that position.
In the end, I won two events, (Chiba Open 6K and Vans Pro 3K) so I look at it that way. I feel like I know how to win now, having had those two."