Anything can happen when conditions get tough and some notable early exits highlighted a decisive day of surfing at the Vans Pro Junior, as the Men's Qualifying Series (QS) Vans Pro QS 3,000 affairs were called off for the day, deciding Semifinal draws after contesting the Quarterfinal matchups.
In one-to-two foot, choppy windswell, competitors who were in the right place at the right time were able to capitalize and find 1st Street Jetty scoring potential, but a shift in the rankings is up for grabs after both North America No. 1 and No. 2 were eliminated in today's proceedings.
North America Rankings Shuffle Looms
An in-form Taro Watanabe continues to pick apart the 1st Street Jetty lineup with dominant performances and, alongside current No. 4 Tyler Gunter, eliminated current No. 1 Crosby Colapinto with a 13.17 (out of a possible 20) heat total. Hailing from Malibu, California, Watanabe's small-wave attack was on point as he found one of the day's best single-scoring wave of a 7.67 (out of a possible 10) to secure his place as heat winner. But, the 16-year-old had to stay on his toes as he had second priority in the dying seconds and applied pressure to Gunter, and subsequently Colapinto, as the clock ran out.
"This is the result I got last year was making it to the Semifinals so it'd be great to go one better and make the Final now," Watanabe said. "I'm just trying to be as prepared as I can and hopefully some waves come my way. It's fun to push yourself in these small waves and to know I can get scores is really reassuring. This is a great opportunity to gain some traction so I'll just try my best and see what happens."
Current North America No. 5 Bo Raynor played ultimate spoiler as he and eventual heat winner Robert Grilho eliminated Eithan Osborne from the draw. It came down to the final seconds as Raynor held priority over Osborne and kept him off the final wave to ensure his advancement. This marks a key Semifinal berth for the North Carolina competitor as he has a chance at getting back into the Top 4 if he continues his success here.
"After seeing a few of the top guys go out that was a nerve-racking heat knowing there was room to move and priority was my best friend in that heat," Raynor said. "I couldn't let him go on that wave knowing how dangerous he is in any wave, and a similar situation happened in Cabo, so it feels really good to make that one. Now I've got back-to-back Semifinals, but I'd love to make the Final and really try to open up a gap in the rankings with a win."
Hawaii Contingent Remains Formidable
Alongside Grilho's performance, fellow North Shore, Oahu, surfer Wyatt McHale displayed his powerful forehand to earn an excellent 8.50, the day's highest single-wave score, and left his fellow competitors in a competition for runner-up -- earning a 14.37 heat total. Nick Marshall also advanced behind McHale, marking his best result this season, but it was the North Shore, Oahu, native who showed that the out-of-region contingent is still a big threat to taking points away from the North America contenders.
The 17-year-old was also granted a spot into the top-seeded Vans Pro QS 3,000 Round 3 draw and now builds confidence moving forward in his first Virginia Beach appearance.
"I lucked into a little double-up that had a little wall the whole way and I was stoked to get a start like that," McHale said. "You don't want to overhype yourself when a wave like that comes and make the mistake of falling, so I just went through the motions and made sure to finish it. I was super fortunate that Vans gave me a wildcard into the main event. It's great to get a couple heats under my belt since it's my first time here and try to figure out the lineup, but my strategy will stay the same -- it's just nice to get some experience going."
The last Quarterfinal heat witnessed a wave-for-wave battle until the final horn as Cole Alves earned a momentum-carrying heat win for a spot into the Semifinals. The Maui, Hawaii, resident put together an air show in the affair as Floridian Chase Modelski earned his way into a coveted Semifinal spot as well to set up an important heat against Raynor and Grilho. But, it was all Alves, who also remains in the QS event, in the end and is only looking more deadly with each passing heat.
"Right away I got that 5.83 which gave me a lot of confidence and then I was able to pull away from the other guys where I'm more comfortable," Alves said. "I just wanted to catch a lot of waves and give myself chances. I'll be going up against Alex Ribeiro, Raoni (Monteiro) and Lucca Mesinas in the QS, so I've never had a harder heat than that, but doing both events is helping learn a lot. It was important to stay light on your fight and keep busy so I'm stoked to be making heats in both events as well with that strategy."
Tomorrow's 7:30 a.m. EDT call will determine a possible 8:00 a.m. start for the marquee Vans Pro QS 3,000 Round 3 draw or Pro Junior Semifinal bouts.