In a Hawaii vs. Hawaii matchup, Kai Mana Henry dominated the Rangiroa Open Pro -- the first international World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) 1,000 event in Rangiroa, French Polynesia -- against Hawaii's youngest competitor, Finn McGill. As the first contest of the new Hawaii/Tahiti Nui region, Rangiroa proved itself a worthy location and important addition to regional members' qualification hopes.
Originally from Maui, but calling the North Shore of Oahu home, Henry has spent time in Tahiti but never here in Rangiroa. Yet the 37-year-old surfed the technical reef break with ease and expertise.
"The competition out here is top notch," said Henry. "Everybody's so on their game now you better bring your A-game to be top in these events. You really have to step it up and make it happen."
The power-surfer talked about the win: "It feels amazing. I wasn't expecting anything coming into this and I think that attitude got me through, so I just stuck with it and whatever happened happened. It all fell into place, stoked."
Henry kicked off the heat with a low scoring wave, a 1.00, and McGill answered back with a nice, but short barrel and an air attempt, which garnered a 4.75 from the judges. The best maneuver of the heat went to Henry for a massive vertical turn to displace buckets of water and earn a 7.25 from the judges.
"I was so stoked to be in a Final against Kai Mana Henry," said McGill. "I've looked up to him since I was like eight years old, watching him surf Pipe all the time getting the best waves... . Kai Mana threw down some giant turns and it was so crazy, that was the most spray I've ever seen."
A few barrels were had in the heat, with Henry finding quick cover on a 6.05-scoring ride that helped him to secure a strong lead ahead of McGill. The teen answered back by driving through a tube, but was unable to make an exit and earned a 3.50, his second-highest score.
Atop the podium, both Henry and McGill thanked the Tahitians and talked about the local talent here in the islands. Mauiki Raioha (PYF) of Papenoo was celebrated for his two 10s during the event, and was stepped up to stage to receive a lei and special recognition.
In the Semifinals, Henry drew first blood against Matthew McGillivray(ZAF) to post an 8.50, then backed it up with a beautiful barrel that raced along the inside section for a 9.35.
Henry's power-surfing was the ideal match for McGillivray's honed fundamentals, as the two paddled for position in the shifty lineup. The J-Bay native kept the energy high by responding to Henry with a 6.75, but unfortunately failed to secure a solid backup result.
McGillivray, a standout of the event, has been competing in local events around South Africa since he began surfing at age 10. Just last year the 18-year-old began his climb up the QS, starting off with a couple of contests in Europe and then numerous QS1,000s in Australia at the beginning of this year.
"I saw there were two 1,000s in Tahiti and thought, why not, that's a wonderful place to go to and a good opportunity to get some points," he said. The teen takes equal third place in the competition.
A very close Semifinal heat between McGill, 15, and Cody Young (HAW), 17, kept the beach crowd on high alert, especially after the waves picked up with only five minutes left on the clock. Strategic small-wave game was essential, and both surfers tore apart small insiders with multiple turns on each wave. McGill's two highest scores, a 5.50 and 4.00, were enough to put him in the Final, narrowly defeating Young by less than half a point.
Henry takes home a check for $2,000 and 1,000 points toward his regional rankings. But before heading to Hawaii, will compete in the next QS1,000 in Tahiti, the Papara Open Pro. The holding period for this event is March 13 - 18 and includes a Men's QS1,000 and a Junior Pro 1,000 for both men and women. These events add opportunity for local surfers to gain valuable ratings points and a cultural experience in the island atmosphere of Tahiti.