The women's Qualifying Series (QS) 6,000s bring out some of the best names in surfing from around the world -- and the Ron Jon Florida Pro pres by Sunshine State Florida Lager is no different. But, as QS top seeds debuted alongside these elite competitors, they made it clear that intimidation is not a factor when tricky conditions level the playing field.
Minori Kawai was on a tear in 2017 and finished No. 21 on the QS -- setting herself up for a top seeded position into this season. The Chiba, Japan, native wasted no time using that to her advantage. She took a massive Round Three heat win over Paige Hareb, the New Zealand surfer who made it back to the Championship Tour for 2018, after falling off a few years back. Kawai's excellent 16.00 (out of a possible 20) heat total paved the way for the day's top performance despite fading conditions.
"My ultimate goal is to qualify for the CT so this is an important event to get a result at to start the season," Kawai said. "The waves are pretty tricky and not too much like my home break. They are less lined up, but still able to find a couple. It's been so cold here which I didn't expect, but I'm super happy to make it through that first heat."
The world has come to know Caroline Marks in recent years and she's only been improving since our first glimpse of her no the elite stage, at the Hurley Swatch Pro Trestles in 2013. A phenomenal 2017 season witnessed the 15-year-old make history as she qualified for the CT this year and is taking full advantage of the opportunity near her native home of Melbourne Beach, Florida. Marks' found an excellent 8.00 (out of a possible 10) right away to solidify her first place position in her debut heat and is ready for a big start to the season.
"This is amazing to finally see this event come to life and have all these girls come here instead of seeing them in Australia or Europe -- I'm really excited now that it's actually happening," Marks said. "Just being my first year on Tour it's going to be great to keep up with these QS6,000s, they're great practice, and especially just getting the opportunity to compete at home is really special. I love this wave and seeing the people, and I'm just in a great place."
Philippa Anderson has felt the agony of missing the qualification by only five spots or less the last three years running, and is determined to get to the CT. "Philsy," as she's known to friends, earned her first QS victory last year and it seemed as though it might have been be her year, but she fell short in the final events of 2017. Yet, the Australian is back and off to a great start with her debut Round Three heat win.
"It's been a kick in the teeth the last few years after you spend so much not only in surfing, but training and I also work a few different jobs to help along with the paychecks," Anderson said. "It's upsetting, but I have really good people around me to help keep that fire and energy. It's my first time here and it's quite cold, but really cool to see. I've been to California heaps of times, so it's really good to see this side of the coast. I'm stoked to get those first heat jitters out and really want to snag a result here."
Alongside these standouts, CT competitors Tatiana Weston-Webb, Coco Ho, Silvana Lima, Bronte Macaulay, and Keely Andrewall won their Round Three debuts and will do battle in Round Four amidst some top seed eliminations.
Event organizers will reconvene at 7:30 a.m. to assess conditions for a possible 8:00 a.m. start for either men's Round Three or women's Round Four.
The Ron Jon Florida Pro pres. by Sunshine State Florida Lager Women's QS6,000 and Florida Pro Men's QS1,500 will run January 18 through 24 at Sebastian Inlet, Florida.