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Hawaii Surfers Start 2017 Strong With First WSL Event at Big Sunset

Hawaii's competitive surf season roars back to life with big swell next week at Sunset Beach as the World Surf League (WSL) Hawaii introduces the first Qualifying Series (QS) and Junior Qualifying Series (JQS) event of 2017, the Sunset Open QS1,000 and Men + Women's Pro Junior JQS1,000. Forty-eight teens and 112 surfers will clash for a solid start to their competitive campaign during the four-day event, which has a holding period from January 18 - 28 and will take place on the best days of surf at the notorious big wave venue.

Open faces for the 2016 Sunset Open An unridden wave at Sunset captures the attention of Hawaiian Water Patrol. WSL / Freesurf/Keoki

This is the first opportunity of 2017 for surfers to gain esteemed points toward their regional ratings in a highly ambitious field. Leading the charge is North Shore's Eli Olson, who won the regional championship title in 2016 and commences the year as the highest rated Hawaii surfer on the regional QS.

"Having that lead feels good and helps your confidence a little bit for sure," said Olson. "But I feel like it's just firing up everyone to perform at a higher and better level. It puts on more pressure because anybody can get lucky and win an event, but it takes a real champ to defend it. I definitely want to do well again and try to win that title again if I can."

Olson navigates a barrel at Sunset Olson navigates at barrel at Sunset during the recent Vans World Cup. WSL / Cestari

Olson will go up against the 112-man field that includes recent winner of the Pe‘ahi Challenge big wave competition Billy Kemper (North Shore) and former Big Wave World Tour Champion Makuakai Rothman (North Shore) plus seasoned veterans Bruce Irons (Kauai) and Joel Centeio (Haleiwa) and young guns Finn McGill, 16, (North Shore), Robert Grilho III, 13, (Kapolei), Kainehe Hunt, 14, (Kauai) and Noah Beschen, 16, (North Shore).

For the Junior Pro, top ranked surfers Cody Young, 17, and Brisa Hennessy, 17, both returned home for the event after contesting the World Junior Championship in Australia earlier this week. Both finished third in the world and demonstrated the type of raw talent that has become synonymous with Hawaii surfers. Hennessy won the Women's Sunset Pro Junior in 2016 and will fight to defend her title against this year's crop of talented wahine.

Hennessy stormed the competition at Sunset Beach Brisa stormed last year's competition at Sunset and hopes to defend that title again this year in big surf. WSL / Freesurf/Heff

"I definitely would love to win again, but Sunset is such a tricky wave, I just want to give my best performance, feel comfortable and not get too worked," said Hennessy. "Competing at Worlds gave me a glimpse of the next generation. Being amongst and competing against the best juniors in the world has inspired and pushed me as a surfer and an athlete."

2016 Regional Junior Champ Noa Mizuno, 18, also represented Hawaii in the World Junior Championship, but now shifts out of the Pro Junior age category and onto the QS full-time. With relative success at Sunset (4th place at 2016 Sunset Pro Junior, Quarterfinal finish at 2016 Sunset Open) Mizuno looks forward to his first QS appearance of the year at the Sunset Open.

Noa Mizuno winning Heat 10 of Round 3 at the World Junior Championship. Mizuno finished 9th in the world at Kiama, Australia. WSL / Ethan Smith

With a fresh infusion of Hawaii blood in the winning ranks (see John John Florence as 2016 World Champion, Vans Triple Crown winner and Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau champ; Kemper as back-to-back Pe‘ahi Challenge winner; Keanu Asing's inaugural Championship Tour (CT) triumph; Sebastian Zietz's victory at Margaret River in Australia; and Ezekiel Lau's rise to the CT) the Aloha State is producing some of the most talented surfers on the planet, which will be on display this January during the Sunset Open and Pro Junior.

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