One thing is true about surfing Haleiwa's Ali'I Beach Park - if you're going left, it's not real Haleiwa. Sure, the menehunes love it, as the wave becomes more like south side Huntington Pier than the freight-training right wall that makes it one of the North Shore's high performance epicenters. But opening day at the 2017 Hawaiian Pro kicked off in predominantly 2-to-3 foot lefts delivered by a mid-period NW swell with good direction but not much mojo.
With 26 surfers from the Hawaii/Tahiti region seeded into the Round of 128, the odds in the early rounds are stacked heavily in favor of the Islanders, many of whom have been surfing Beach Park since they were toddlers. But Mother Nature dealt homegrown talent a wicked blow, with tiny conditions effectively leveling the playing field, negating any home court advantage that the locals work so hard to garner year after year.
South Carolinian Cam Richards, who took to the crumbly left walls like it was an A+ day at Garden City Pier back home in Carolina, was the standout surfer of the day.
In Round One, Heat 11, Richards, who posted both the highest single wave score of the day - 9.93 - as well as the highest total heat score -- 17.16 -- produced a breakout performance. With two 7-point rides already in the bag mid-way through his heat, Richards was free to push the limits and uncorked a stylish frontside 540, the biggest move of the event so far
Richards took his win in stride, telling Rosy Hodge afterward he wasn't as much concerned with results as gaining valuable North Shore experience, and QS points, for future seasons.
So what was the difference maker for San Clemente's Positive Vibe Warrior, Tanner Gudauskas? Finding mid-range set waves with steep walls and unleashing his powerful bag of layback gouges and spray-splattering snaps. "You gotta trust the lump," said Tanner with a grin, surmising the conditions of the day into typically sunny Gudauskian terminology.
The most dramatic moments of the day played out in the second heat of Round Two, the last of the day, where Brett Simpson went from third to first on the final wave of the heat. With 20 seconds remaining, Simpson pushed QS hopeful Hiroto Ohhara into third place, out of advancement and out of the event.
The loss inflicted a punishing blow to Ohhara's qualification dreams for 2018. The Japanese surfer is currently ranked No. 18 on the QS, but will now need a heroic performance at Sunset Beach at the Vans World Cup if he hopes to make the jump to the Championship Tour next season.