Honolulu-born and Tahiti-raised surfer Keoni Yan, 20, seized his first-ever World Surf League (WSL) victory in Hawaii Sunday at the Sunset Pro -- a QS1,000-rated event. He takes an early lead of the WSL Hawaii regional rankings.
Wave face heights of up to 12 feet offered ample scoring potential, but the unpredictability of the newly rising swell highlighted the importance of positioning in the lineup; this was where Yan capitalized. The 30-minute Final presented the shiftiest lineup of all and Yan stole the lead from beneath veteran Sunset surfer Myles Padaca, with Evan Valiere (Kauai) and Tanner Hendrickson (Maui) putting up third and fourth.
"This is my first WSL final and my first win so I don't know it feels weird," Yan said of the victory. "I wish the waves were better for the Final, but a win is a win, and surfing is like that -- even if it's not good you have to go out there and do your best, so I'm happy to win."
Yan recently returned to Oahu to get a leg up on competition, and will remain in Hawaii to compete through the winter before pursuing events overseas.
"After I graduated high school in Tahiti, I decided to move here (Hawaii) because it's cheaper to travel and it's closer to my sponsor," said Yan. "I'm staying with Big Ben (Wilkinson) on the North Shore."
The ocean went quiet during the Final, which meant strategy played a big role in the suspenseful last minutes of the heat. Yan, 20, secured the win by scoring a 6.00, which put him less than one point ahead of Padaca. But Padaca, 44, played his veteran cards well by collecting small scores and safeguarding an early lead for a second-place finish.
"The waves were pretty slow and the tide was kind of high so the waves were missing the outside peak and kind of shifting inside, so I tried to sit under everybody," said Padaca. "All in all today was an epic day here at Sunset...it was just fun to go out surf with three guys in a heat at Sunset because usually there's 20-40 guys out on gigantic boards, so this was a real treat."
Although Valiere, 32, had the highest scoring ride of the Final, a 6.75, he was unable to find a solid backup score and had to settle for third place ahead of Hendrickson, who only found one wave in the lull-filled heat.
Maui's Hendrickson nabbed the biggest score of the day during the Quarterfinals, a 9.25 for three big critical turns and a solid finish. Hendrickson had considerable success in 2015 with a runner-up finish at the Vans US Open and a Semifinal finish in the HIC Pro, however, a win has surprisingly evaded the 23-year-old surfer.
Another event standout was Patrick Gudauskas, who was fresh off a win at the Shoe City Pro in Huntington Beach. Gudauskas' tear in the complex conditions ended short after an interference call was made in the second Semifinal against Yan. Yan took off deep and struggled to maintain his balance in the white water. Gudauskas, unsure if his opponent was still standing, took advantage of the wave and dropped in just as Yan bottom turned and the two bumped rails. Pat kicked out immediately, but it was too late and an interference was called.
The 2016 WSL Hawaii QS tour moves to Pipeline this week for the Volcom Pipe Pro - a QS3,000 rated event that will include surfing giants Kelly Slater and John John Florence, as well as many of today's local stars. The holding period gets underway Thursday, January 28, through February 7.