The World Surf League (WSL) is prepared for its East Coast takeover beginning with an eighth annual trip to Virginia Beach August 21 - 26 as the Vans Pro Men's Qualifying Series (QS) 3,000 and Vans Pro Junior gets underway starting tomorrow morning. One of WSL North America's longest-running regional events joins one of the world's longest-running events, the East Coast Surfing Championships (ECSC), now in its 56th year of competition.
The Vans Pro brings some of the QS's top threats, former Championship Tour (CT) competitors, and next generation of Pro Junior talents to one break -- showcasing their grit in the tough conditions expected.
"From flat conditions to hurricanes evacuations, and everything in between, this has always been the most challenging event from a production standpoint," said Event Director Darren Brillhart. "We need four days to run both Men's QS and Pro Junior within our six-day window, so when there are contestable waves we try to run as many heats as possible. This year the forecast looks small, but conditions change out here daily so we always keep our hopes up."
Nathan Yeomans is one competitor who's faced every type of those conditions at Virginia Beach in his illustrious career and has great memories to reflect on as a driving force heading back. The 36-year-old, San Clemente, California, native continues to fight for every inch on the QS as he looks to put everything into the back-half of 2018 after winning the Jack's Surfboards Pro. Yeomans, former CT competitor-turned family man, finds himself back on the grind aside from his full-time job at home and looks to better his best Vans Pro finish of an equal third-place finish to achieve a big year-end goal.
"One of my goals for this year is to win the North American rankings," Yeomans said. "I won it back in 2009, and, since I'm no longer competing on the international level, I set my goals on North America. This event is the US open of the East Coast and I love Virginia Beach. I have some really good local friends there too -- John, Paul and Parker Sawyer -- who I've been staying with for the last 6 years so It's kind of like a family reunion."
"The year ECSC was a 6-star (QS 6,000) I made the Semifinals," Yeomans added. "I surfed against the late, great Jean de Silva, who went on to win the event. Looking back, that was a really cool, and special memory of not only ECSC, but also with Jean, who I competed with for over a decade."
One of the East Coast's newest QS threats, South Carolina's Cam Richards (USA), earned one of the Vans Pro QS 3,000 wildcards as he currently sits at No. 35 on the rankings following a heavy injury sustained after the Volcom Pipe Pro in February. Richards made his comeback to the jersey at the Vans US Open, where he finished with an equal 9th, and put on a showcase of great surfing despite not feeling 100 percent. The 22-year-old now finds himself in striking distance toward being a qualification threat by year's end.
"The East Coast is always a good time because the family can come watch which is nice," Richards said. "I had a pretty successful amateur career there, but haven't really got a result in the pro so hopefully this year's different. My knee locked up the day after Pipe Pro and I wasn't able to walk or move my leg. I had a complete ACL replacement and got 60 percent of my meniscus removed. I'm not putting any pressure on myself because of that injury, but we're all on the QS for one reason and that's to be on the CT."
The Vans Pro Junior, an event that's coincided with the Vans Pro QS 3,000 since its inception, continues to offer a platform for the region's best competitors 18-and-under. Though, the North America contingent have struggled against outside-region competitors in previous years with four Hawaii competitors and one Brasilian earning victories out of the last seven years.
Current North America No. 4 Tyler Gunter was the only finalist last year vying for points toward regional rankings and it later helped secure his place at the World Junior Championship. Now, Gunter looks to do the same again in his final season as a Pro Junior. It's been a mixed bag of results for the 18-year-old this year after he secured a fifth-consecutive Final appearance, dating back to 2017's Los Cabos Open of Surf, in Cocoa Beach, Florida, but fell short of that mark in both Los Cabos Open of Surf and the Vans US Open Pro Junior. But, with three events remaining on the schedule, Gunter knows the work is just getting underway.
"Virginia is always a super tough contest because of the small waves and the international surfers," Gunter said. "I think to make it back to the Finals this year I'm going to have to get the best waves and be smart in my heats. I was bummed on my US Open result, but I learned from my mistakes and I've been training really hard to get ready for this contest. I think my favorite memory of this event was last year being in the Finals and rushing off the beach because I had to get to the airport to go on a boat trip to Indo with my friends. Before I got off the beach, Zander Venezia stopped me and we had a nice conversation and I think about that all the time."
But, the WSL East Coast leg continues beyond Virginia Beach's 1st Street Jetty with the WRV Outer Banks Pro pres by Pacifico QS 1,000, taking on a new addition to the schedule this year. The Men's QS competitors will be joined by the women for the first time since 2002.
Event Director LG Shaw and his team have worked around the clock to bring this event back to life and add even more, continuing the live webcast from Jennette's Pier August 29 - September 2. A similar beast in the nature of conditions, Outer Banks can provide anything from fun, beachbreak to full victory-at-sea in a matter of hours as it sits on the furthermost tip of the East Coast and the event has witnessed everything in between in its four years, with its fifth just around the corner.
"We're stoked to continue to elevate the experience for both the athletes and the spectators at Outer Banks," Shaw said. "The atmosphere at this event is second-to-none with everyone having a good time, so to have the women add to that and bring a new is something we're looking forward to. It's only natural that the outstanding talent the new generation of women are showing is given an opportunity to shine at one of the most beautiful locations on the QS."
The WRV Outer Banks Men and Women's QS 1,000 runs August 29 - September 2 at Jennette's Pier in Nags Head, North Carolina.