After ten long years of chasing the Qualifying Series (QS) around the world, it was on the shores of Huntington Beach that Hizunome Bettero earned his first-ever win at the Jack's Surfboards Pro QS1,500. It was an all-international Final affair that witnessed contest standout Arashi Kato earn runner-up -- the Japanese surfer's best result of his career as well. It was a marathon finals day that ran 17 heats, including the Final, with both Bettero and Kato surfing five heats to claim their honors over a stacked field of competitors.
Bettero was a known threat from his debut Round Three heat, and continued to build that reputation in Round Four with a dominant display of power surfing. The Ubatuba, Brazil-native used his veteran experience to finally breakthrough as an event champion and did so in convincingly. Kato proved to be a formidable opponent and did not give up in the Final til the last horn sounded, but Bettero got the best of each exchange with powerful forehand carves and his signature aerial attack to emerge victorious.
"I have no power left in me after an amazing day and I'm just so stoked to get my first win after ten years of being on the QS," Bettero said. "It's the best feeling ever. Sometimes you think it will never come, but if you keep fighting for it and really believe in yourself, God will give you a blessed day. I've gotten seconds and thirds, but there is no feeling like winning a competition that you give your everything to. I can't believe this day is here."
The Brazilian trampled through the Jack's Surfboards Pro QS1,500 and took out former Championship Tour (CT) competitor Keanu Asing (HAW) along the way in Round Five where he earned the highest single-scoring wave of a 9.43 (out of a possible 10) -- though he earned the day's highest heat total just prior in Round Four, a 16.93 (out of a possible 20).
The Brazilian had a taste of the CT nearly a decade ago at the Hang Loose Santa Catarina Pro and came away with an Equal 17th behind Freddy Patacchia (HAW). With a Top 50 finish last year, Bettero has a spot in the highest-rated QS events in the first half of the year and wants to find his way to the Dream Tour as more than just a wildcard. With this result, Bettero just jumped 105 spots up the rankings to be current No. 26.
"I'm fully charging this year and trying to compete in all the QS10,000s that I can to give myself a shot at qualifying -- I believe in myself," Bettero added. "After this I'm feeling much more confident since I had two Round Two exits in Australia so I put my name in here and told myself that I have to do better than that. I know I can do better, but sometimes you deal with the ups and downs, and right now I'm feeling so blessed."
Runner-up Arashi Kato began his campaign in Round Two of this event and began claiming scalps right away in Round Three -- besting former CT competitors Brett Simpson and again in Round Four against Nate Yeomans. This marks Kato's best finish on the QS thus far and now has steam heading back to his Chiba home in Japan.
"It feels so good to make a Final after dealing with injury last year and only being able to focus on the Japan events," Kato said. "This year I have my focus on all of the QS and so stoked to have this opportunity to stay in the Top 100 for the re-seeding after the US Open. Today, surfing so many heats, I'm definitely tired, but that was great training for the year to come. I have so much confidence after beating guys like Brett Simpson from here at his homebreak so that's an incredible feeling for me. With the QS6,000 at my break in Chiba, I'm just ready to go now and will put all my focus there."
Dylan Goodale and Bettero met three times in this event with the Brazilian coming out on top each bout despite Goodale's best efforts. Goodale progressed through this event under the radar until their Round Four heat where he posted an excellent 8.33, but it was Bettero who found a way to come out on top in the end. However, the Hawaiian's performance was one to take note toward future events and a challenge he's up for if the opportunities arise.
"I was really hoping that Semifinal was the heat I'd finally beat [Bettero], but I just made one priority error where I should've waited and that was the heat," Goodale said. "It was great to get that good start in Round Four, but [Bettero] beat me there and that was kind of the pre-cursor for the rest of the day. I'll just keep doing my thing and trying to gain exposure while doing some more of these events. It's hard to do more events with all the travel involved so it'll be great to see more events in North America and Hawaii start to come up."
Fellow semifinalist, and 2016 North America QS Regional Champion, Kilian Garland had his work cut out for him in a Round Five superheat featuring Kiron Jabour, Torrey Meister, and Nate Yeomans. After coming out with a win in that heat, Garland looked poised for a big result, but it wasn't to be as he fell to the eventual runner-up, Kato. But, the Santa Barbara, California-native has a big year planned with his first chance to contest in at least one QS10,000 this season in Ballito, South Africa.
"This was such a great event, we had good waves the whole weekend and it's great to see more events come up in the region to help us get more results," Garland said. "Last year I progressed further as the season went on so I'm hoping to catch that kind of rhythm again heading into South Africa. I'll just be training around the Central Coast until then since I've heard there's some powerful waves around Ballito and I want to get there early for a few events before the QS10,000. I'm feeling even better than I did last year so I'm looking forward to hopefully earning even more results."
For more qualifying action, catch the current Martinique Pro QS3,000 this week as their event window began yesterday, April 1 and runs through April 8.