The Florida Pro Women's QS 3,000 and Men's QS 1,500 covered extensive ground today, powering through men and women's competition with Sebastian Inlet providing a bit more opportunity. The top-seeded women continued to flourish and put their stamp on Round 2 while the men did just the same as they kicked off their opening round.
Brisa Hennessy Drops the Hammer
One of the top event threats, Hennessy, made this year's debut count with an excellent 8.00 (out of a possible 10) right out of the gates. The Costa Rican representative was able to accrue a 13.57 (out of a possible 20) heat total with smart wave selection and capitalizing on solid sections. But, the 19-year-old feels there's still room for improvement with a lot of contest left.
"It's always a great feeling to start with an excellent score and I think it overall helps with your confidence and getting the first heat jitters out of the way -- especially when it's the first contest of the year," Hennessy said. "I've realized how important it is to have an alert and open mind out here and I just wanted to stay busy and look for the best scoring opportunities. Going forward I hope to better my wave selection, my speed and getting more in tune with the lineup."
Next Generation Goes Toe-to-Toe
Round 2 Heat 15 featured two of North America's top Pro Junior talents: 2017 North America Regional Champ Alyssa Spencer and Samantha Sibley going toe-to-toe alongside Japanese competitor Julie Nishimoto. Spencer looked to be on her way out of the contest sitting in third until the final two minutes when she was gifted an opportunity and moved right into first. However, Sibley was then pushed to third and Nishimoto advanced behind Spencer.
"That was crazy, I knew coming into that heat all the girls were capable of dropping big scores so I knew those small scores at the start would be thrown out," Spencer said. "It was a little bit stressful just sitting in third for a while, but I thought if the wave came through then I could get the score. You could be the best surfer in the world and not have a good wave come to you so that was really nice to get that chance. I was definitely feeling the first heat jitters, but I'm excited to get that one out of the way and start the year off here."
Florida Redemption for Camilla Kemp and Maud Le Car
After an early exit last year at the Florida Pro, Kemp returned in terrific fashion with a Round 2 win. The Portuguese competitor has her mindset dialed in for the new season and showed that the off-season preparation was worthwhile. But, it's a long event, and year, ahead for the QS veteran.
"It's nerve-racking coming into the first event of the year after preparing for two months leading up to it and wanting to leave it all out there," Kemp said. "I think that's why everyone is so nervous and excited. This wave reminds me of home, windy beachbreaks, and I just want to get off to a good start. I didn't come here with a lot of expectations."
Men Battle In Opening Round Bouts
Competition then shifted to opening rounds of the Florida Pro Men's QS 1,500 and surfers were eager to get their first heat in the books. The top seeds showcased their authority with big performances from the start that many carried into Round 2.
Nolan Rapoza Turns 21 in Style
Birthday celebrations can always be fun, particularly your 21st. But, it was an extra special day for Rapoza who just celebrated his birthday on Tuesday and followed up with a jaw-dropping performance in Round 2. The Long Beach, California, native turned in a Round 1 heat win before dominating the last heat of Round 2 with an excellent 8.60 and 15.87 heat total -- the day's best.
"When I got on that wave it was the first thing that popped into my head was doing a big air," Rapoza said. "I could've gone for two turns, but thought a higher score would come from the air and it felt really good. It couldn't have been a better birthday yesterday and honestly coming into today I was a little nervous just being the first heat of the year. I just turned 21 and it's a new season, I definitely didn't want to start it off on the wrong foot."
The Florida Pro Champ Returns Brilliantly
Defending event champion Evan Geiselman unleashed an excellent 8.17, and 14.00 heat total, to start men's competition off in Round 1 Heat 1 against his brother Eric Geiselman. Evan wasn't done yet and pushed his Round 2 performance to the next level with one of the day's highest heat totals behind Rapoza of a 15.57. The 25-year-old is in search of his third Florida QS title and showed he's one to beat yet again.
"It's funny because after the whole Hawaii leg I actually took a few weeks off surfing and had a fun New Year in the snow," Geiselman said. "Just had to take some time away and got back into it just about a week ago so now I'm fired up for this one and to compete again. We had my brother so fired up to do it and that was a bummer, but he hasn't done a contest in five years so we had fun (laughs). It was just cool having him in the water."
Bajans Come Out Swinging
The Barbados natives are representing their island nation well this week with both Chelsea Tuach and Chelsea Roett advancing yesterday, and Josh Burke leading their charge on the men's side with an impressive Round 1 debut today -- joined by Che Allan into Round 3. Burke posted a solid 14.47 with his aerial attack and aggressive carves. But, this event is simply a stepping stone for Burke.
"I was surprisingly not nervous, which I usually am especially being the first heat of the year, but I felt good in my freesurfs which helped," Burke said. "You just had to stay busy out there and it really paid off getting those scores. The waves are different from last year, but you can still do big turns out there, it's not groveling which is nice. This year I'm really just focused on the big events since I'm into the QS 10,000s so this is a great momentum builder event."
Early Shocker for One of North America's Finest
While the top seeds flourished, upsets were scattered throughout the day and the heaviest one came in Round 1 Heat 13. 2018 North America No. 2 Kevin Schulz sat in an advancing position behind Florida's Noah Schweizer, who won the heat, until the final moments when fellow Californian Sean Woods threw a Hail Mary air-reverse to steal the runner-up spot.
"I never throw airs in heats so it feels really good to land something like that," Woods said. "In the past I've surfed heats safe and I wanted to change that this season. This year I just want to go for it so it's great that it worked out like that."
Event organizers will convene tomorrow morning and make a 7:30 a.m. EST call for a possible 8:00 a.m. EST for the completion of men's Round 2 and women's Round 3.
Watch the Florida Pro Women's QS 3,000 and Men's QS 1,500 from January 14 - 20 at Sebastian Inlet, Florida.