Patience and grit paid off on opening day at the Hawaiian Pro, the first gem of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. After a six-day wait for surf, action was rapid-fire throughout the day with no shortage of drama to get the series started.
Billy Kemper (HAW) set the bar with a near-perfect 9.70 -- the highest single wave score of the day -- after attacking the lip with his progressive surfing style. Twenty-three-year-old challenger Frederico Morais (PRT) came back with his own excellent score -- a 9.43 -- to secure the heat win in front of Kemper, though both will advance into Round 2.
"I love these waves, these powerful waves where you can really do power turns and bottom-to-top surfing," said Morais, who is hoping for a strong performance in Hawaii to improve his seeding position for next year. "That's what I'm looking for and that's what I've been working on."
Local knowledge was key in the morning's inconsistent surf, but by mid-afternoon the waves picked up to offer ramps, walls and aerial opportunity for all competitors.
Another standout of the event was 29-year-old Willian Cardoso (BRA), who posted one of the higher heat scores of the day, a 15.93, taking full command of the lineup with his power surfing.
"It was a good start for me," said Cardoso. "At first I didn't know what board to choose, but I think I made the right choice. Good to be back in Hawaii surfing, and the waves are starting to get bigger now."
Italian surfer Leonardo Fioravanti made an impressive comeback this year after breaking his back at Pipeline in January. He surfed with confidence and advanced with an excellent-range score in his final total.
"It's been a super tough year for me, up and down, full of rollercoaster," said Fioravanti. "At the start of the year I fractured my vertebrae at Pipeline at the Volcom Pipe Pro and that put me out for about six months. I just worked hard, I worked eight hours a day doing anything possible to get back."
Fresh off a third-place finish at the recent HIC Pro was 21-year-old Kaito Kino (HAW), who looked strong in a stacked heat featuring Mason Ho (HAW), Jamie O'Brien (HAW) and David do Carmo (BRA). Kino advanced into the next round with a 12.10 combined wave score and will surf against an international mix of competitors in Round 2.
"That was a stacked heat," said David. "Triple Crown former winner Myles Padaca, I've looked up to him my whole life, and it's crazy, Timmy Reyes and Nomme, I surfed against him in Panama at the ISA, it was such a gnarly heat… just lucky I got one at the beginning at Peaks and backed it up on that left. I'm just stoked to make it through that heat."
At 18 years old, and with a handful of Triple Crown seasons under his belt, David is looking to break into new results territory at home this winter and to set himself up for a full-blown attack next year.
"I've just been working so much on rail to rail, and carves and turns and more all around surfing," said David. "But if it gets small and I need to do an air I'll be able to pull it out… I have a couple magic boards and I'm stoked."
Six-time Triple Crown champion Sunny Garcia (HAW) also advanced into Round 2 but also put his name in the record book. With his participation in the Hawaiian pro he matches Derek Ho's record of 29 Triple Crown seasons. With the surfing series now in its 33rd year of prestige, it is doubtful anyone will rival Garcia's accomplishments here.
"It's the cherry on the top of the pie for me," said Garcia. "It's not like competing, but just the feeling of being home. I love the Triple Crown. I love that Randy Rarick built something that Hawaiian surfers can enjoy at home and make a living competing in their own events."
Next call is Thursday, November 19 at 7 a.m. local time. Organizers expect an 8 a.m. start with similar surf forecasted.