On Sunday, Kanoa Igarashi (USA), 18, achieved the most important accomplishments in his career so far as he confirmed his qualification onto the 2016 World Surf League Championship Tour after defeating Connor O'Leary (AUS), 22, in the Final of the QS 6,000 Mahalo Surf Eco Festival held at Praia da Tiririca, in Itacaré, Brazil.
Kanoa got off to a quick start during the Final by throwing a straight frontside air on a right at Praia da Tiririca that gave him a 7.00 on his first ride. He then followed with another ride where he executed several strong frontside hacks for a 6.17. O'Leary chose to be patient and his strategy paid off as he earned a 7.77 on his first scoring opportunity, then added a 5.93 for a 13.70 heat total and the lead over Igarashi.
O'Leary extended his lead when he displayed a series of vicious backhand hacks on a right which merited a 6.97 for his backup score. With only three minutes remaining in the Final, Igarashi scratched into a righthander and reached an incredible speed before chucking a huge full rotation reverse to take the lead with a 7.40. In the dying seconds, with O'Leary needing a 7.20, Igarashi caught another right, threw two air reverses on the same wave and sealed his victory with a 7.57; the final score being 14.74 to 14.40 respectively.
"I can't believe what I'm feeling, this is amazing," exclaimed Igarashi as he reached the winner's podium. "It's the biggest win in my life and the best year of my life. I can't believe it, I'm so happy. Things are a lot better for me now. There's a lot less pressure and less events, so I don't have to worry as much anymore. Now I can enjoy things a little more and relax, but I still want to do well in Maresias. I'm loving Brazil and I love being here, so I can't wait for Maresias too."
Despite not winning the Mahalo Surf Eco Festival, O'Leary was pleased with his performance in Itacaré. In addition to establishing the highest heat total (18.44) and the highest single wave score of the event (9.57), the young Australian also climbed into the list of Top 10 surfers that are eligible for qualification onto the elite division of competitive surfing, the Championship Tour (CT).
"Yeah this is a sick result," said O'Leary. "This is the first QS final I've ever been in, so I'm stoked. Things are a bit lumpy and bumpy, but there's still scoring opportunities out there, so it's all good. It's cool to be leaving here with a 2nd place finish."
Competition on Sunday began with Igarashi facing up against Ryan Callinan (AUS) in Heat 1 of the Semifinals. Although Callinan had an 8.83 on his highest scoring ride, his low scoring 2nd ride was not enough to overtake the Californian and was defeated by a score of 14.83 to 13.16.
In Heat 2 of the Semifinals, O'Leary was matched against the lone Brazilian left in competition, David do Carmo (BRA). Both surfers were neck and neck throughout the heat as they kept busy and produced several mid-range scores. Do Carmo had a chance to take the win on his last wave, but O'Leary held on to a slim lead and advanced by a score of 12.97 to 12.70.
With a 3rd place finish, David do Carmo obtained his best result this year on the Qualifying Series.
"I think I could've gotten the score on my last wave, but I bogged a rail and wasn't able to do the kind of turn I had been doing all contest long," said Do Carmo. "But I can't get upset with my result. I'd been losing early in all the QS's, so getting a 3rd here gives me a good confidence booster."
After the QS 6,000 Red Nose Pro in Florianopolis and the QS 6,000 in Itacaré, the third and final event of the WSL South America Surf Series will take place from Nov 2-8 at Praia de Maresias for the Oi HD Sao Paulo Open of Surfing QS 10,000. Top surfers on the CT looking to requalify and the best surfers on the QS will battle it out as U$250,000 in prize money will be distributed and crucial ranking points will be up for grabs before heading to Hawaii for the final events of the 2015 Surfing Season.