The World Surf League (WSL) Men's Qualifying Series (QS) Vans Pro QS 3,000 and Vans Pro Junior crowned Hiroto Ohhara and Cole Alves event champions, respectively. A slight increase in swell helped provide a finals day packed with explosive surfing from the two event champions in one-to-three foot windswell.
This marks Ohhara's first QS victory since the 2015 Vans US Open, as well as Alves' first-ever WSL win -- making it back-to-back Hawaii wins in the North America region.
Ohhara's Long-Awaited QS Win
The Men's QS Final featured Ohhara taking on Vans Pro standout Tyler Gunter, making both QS and Pro Junior Finals, along with an in-form Reo Inaba and Brasilian dark horse Flavio Nakagima. Inaba's fast start had the Japanese competitor at a 15.10 (out of a possible 20) heat total midway through the Final, but it was Ohhara's patience and wave selection that proved to be the difference maker -- finding a near-perfect 9.07 (out of a possible 10) in the last six minutes to turn the heat for a big win.
"It feels amazing to win this event after not getting a result this year and reminds me of winning the US Open (laughs)," Ohhara said. "I thought Reo was going to win that Final after he got those two scores to start, but I just stayed patient with priority and knew a wave would come. When it did I just wanted to give it my all. I could feel the momentum from winning the Surf Ranch Pro trials coming here, it happened when I won the US Open after winning the Hurley trials for Trestles, so I'm so happy it worked out like that again."
Ohhara's Surf Ranch Pro trials win was a pleasant surprise to the 21-year-old after surfing the wave for the first time days before this event.That confidence showed throughout the week in Virginia Beach after posting a remarkable 9.60, matching the event's highest single-wave score, during his Quarterfinal bout. A nail-biting Semifinal that witnessed Ohhara move from fourth-place to first-place twice in the heat, eliminating brothers Santiago and Alejo Muniz, before eventually earning first. Now, Ohhara takes this momentum shift toward Europe for a chance at more valuable points.
"It was great to have a lot of my friends on finals day and to win with Reo getting second is great," Ohhara added. "I also feel like this is a turning point in the season and now I have some good points heading to Europe. It's going to be hard work with another QS 3,000 coming next before the QS 10,000, but I'll do my best and see how far I can go in both events."
Inaba Stuns En Route to Runner-up Finish
A stunning Semifinal performance from eventual runner-up Inaba eliminated 2016 Vans Pro Champion and 2017 Finalist Evan Geiselman, along with the talented Australian Reef Heazlewood. The Chiba, Japan, native earned 2,250 crucial points toward a late surge in the back-half of 2018 after powering through some of the toughest Virginia Beach conditions in recent memory. But, he remained all smiles solidifying a 1-2 finish with fellow countrymen Ohhara and now looks forward for more.
"That was such a fun heat with Hiroto and I thought I was on the way to winning after getting that start, but he got that one at the end (laughs)," Inaba said. "This gives me some confidence and gets me fired up for the next events. It was really tough out there, but home is kind of like this and I was training hard before this one. It's really good to see that hard work pay off and I want to keep doing better so my goal is to win an event now."
Gunter's Awe-Inspiring Campaign in Virginia Beach
Gunter finds himself in rare company alongside Samuel Pupo as two of the only competitors to make both Finals at the Vans Pro and Vans Pro Junior. The Newport Beach, California, native put on a showcase of clutch surfing throughout the week and his surge through finals day to earn fourth-place in the QS 3,000 and a Pro Junior runner-up. This marks Gunter's first major QS Final and launched him up 74 spots to No. 107 on the rankings. Now, the 18-year-old heads to Europe to continue his momentum swing.
"That was such a crazy day and to make two Finals is just unreal, especially in a QS 3,000," Gunter said. "I was just stoked to be in the Quarters for the QS and after I won that heat, made it through to the Pro Junior Final so I really wanted to make that QS Semifinal. I woke up this morning feeling really good and I actually wasn't too nervous, when I usually am, but that was awesome. After losing in the first Round of the US Open Pro Junior, I was bummed and just wanted to give this one everything I had."
"It feels so good and, not in a mean way, but everyone in front of me got bad results and I was able to capitalize," Gunter said. "I've got two second-place finishes and a fifth to hold onto which is really reassuring. I'm just excited to be making my goals of getting back to Worlds happen so I'll have to keep this going."
Nakagima's 2018 Finals Break Through
The Brasilian contingent looked to be a serious threat on finals day with Deivid Silva and Muniz joining Nakagima, but after Silva fell in the Quarterfinals and the Muniz brothers in the Semifinals, it was all up to Nakagima. Despite not getting a win, this was an important result for Nakagima as hasn't made a Final in 2018-- and sits at No. 37 on the rankings. Now, the QS veteran will regroup for a shot at more in Spain and Portugal.
"I was a bit tired by the time the Final came around after not surfing the first few days then surfing all the way through yesterday and today," Nakagima said. "I'm still stoked with making the Final though. This is my third trip to Virginia and I like this place. The vibe, the people, it's all so good and maybe I'll have to come again next year to try for a win this time (laughs). It's an amazing for my confidence because it's such a tough event, but I just give my best in every heat and this is a great result for me."