The men's Qualifying Series (QS) and Pro Juniors embraced a proper East Coast kind of day to race through opening day of the Vans Pro QS 3,000 and Vans Pro Junior -- full of testy surf, sunshine, rain, and eventually lightning that shutdown the beach.
But, despite ever-changing outside weather conditions, competitors showed their grit and ability to grind through opening rounds with impeccable performances. A few were able to breakthrough the average scores and rise above what could be expected at 1st Street Jetty in one-to-two foot windswell.
Miyu Furukawa Nearly Finds Perfection
Some may call it beginners luck, but Furukawa stole the show and earned a near-perfect 9.60 in the final heat of Round 1 amid tough conditions. It marks the Japanese competitor's first appearance at 1st Street Jetty and he didn't hold anything back. He unloaded his forehand attack for a powerful opening turn before belting multiple maneuvers and finished off on the shoreline to raise the bar of what's expected. Furukawa was able to enter the event as an alternate and could wreak havoc to some of the QS elite here for his first time to Virginia Beach.
"I had a lot of fun in that heat even though it was tough out there and to get that score gives me a lot of confidence," Furukawa said. "This is my first time ever here and the waves are smaller than back home, but it's similar being a fun beachbreak. I'm excited to get into this event since I entered late and get a shot at some points, as well as get some extra heats in the Pro Junior."
Taro Watanabe: Third Time the Charm at Vans Pro?
Santa Cruz, California, native Watanabe set the tone for what to expect at 1st Street Jetty with a blistering Round 1 Heat 1 performance. The 16-year-old picked apart the lineup, laying into a righthander with his quick and powerful forehand, to earn a 7.50 and impeccable 14.33 heat total. This marks Watanabe's third appearance in Virginia Beach, but only his second at the QS level and he's looking to capitalize on that knowledge.
"I just wanted to try my best and find any wave I could since it was slow so I'm stoked it worked out," Watanabe said. "I haven't found the secret just yet, but I'm trying to learn more each time I come here. It's really good to have that experience and know what to expect. I just try to figure out what boards work in smaller waves and train those types of waves. This one of the only 3,000s I do during the year so I'm excited to be back and it's good to have a shot at some bigger points."
Jairo Perez's Special Virginia Beach Connection
Perez is one of Costa Rica's own in attendance here once more as he continues to scratch for points away from home. Perez has a unique connection with Virginia Beach after building relationships over the years here and gave them something to cheer about after earning a Round 1 win, eliminating Brasilian threat Wesley Santos. The 28-year-old first came to Virginia Beach in 2010 after being denied a visa multiple times by the Costa Rican government, but once here he made an impression on the local community after winning the ECSC Junior event (before becoming the WSL Pro Junior) and Semifinals in the Men's Pro (before becoming a WSL QS).
Since then, he's returned each year and looks to return to that Semifinal spot at the QS level.
"It was so important to hold priority in that heat so you could be on the best waves, but you really had to get into anything you could so it was tough," Perez said. "The waves don't really get this small back home so it's different, but it's part of it and you have to be prepared for anything. It's so good to be back here, I have a lot of friends in this area and it's always great to see them. I have my wife and child here as well which is amazing to share this experience with."
Noah Schweizer: Back In The Jersey
One of the East Coast's more volatile surfers returns to the event he nearly dismantled two years ago and Schweizer picked up where he left off with a Round 1 victory to step in the right direction once more. The New Smyrna Beach, Florida, native now resides in California alongside long-time friend Cam Richards and has been enjoying time away from the jersey, but found his comfort zone in the competitive scene today.
"I haven't done a contest in awhile so it feels good to be back in a jersey and just growing up in Florida it's in our blood to surf these kind of waves," Schweizer said. "I did the Sweetwater Pro/Am event last week and it felt great to get second, and hopefully can bring that here as well. I've been trying to do more of the freesurf thing with sponsorships and all so it's great to be competing again -- especially around all my friends here. It feels better now honestly after being away. I would get so angry when I lost before, but now I've learned more about how to lose and after surfing so much on trips I'm feeling a lot more confident."
Tomorrow's 6:30 a.m. EDT call will determine a 7:00 a.m. EDT start to either the Men's QS Round 2 or Pro Junior Round 2 action.