Internationally acclaimed ocean athlete Kai Lenny made his Qualifying Series (QS) debut today at the World Surf League (WSL) Sunset Open Men's QS1,000 event and was as cool and calm in raging surf as ever. Professional surfing outside of the Big Wave Tour (BWT) is kind of a last frontier for Lenny, 24, who has mastered big wave windsurfing, tow-in surfing, foil boarding and countless other ocean pursuits.
Extra large surf pumped consistently through the lineup during the opening rounds of competition as a handful of new comers to the QS tested their mettle and endurance at the big wave venue. A mix of veterans and rookies filled the 112-man field with all-time action on tap and wash-through sets surging up the sand. Athletes navigated the challenging break with barrels, power hacks and wipeouts and kept beach goers on their toes throughout the afternoon.
Well-rounded waterman Lenny relished in the massive waves while competing in his first ever QS event. Ranked No. 10 on the BWT, Lenny is using these events to train for upcoming big wave competition.
"I figured this would be the best QS to start, since I love Sunset and it's in Hawaii," said Lenny. "North Shore's a second home and I just kind of wanted to do it because I'd like to get these breaks with nobody out. That's part of it too, but I just love competing as well. This will keep me tuned up in case one of the Big Wave Tour events goes off."
The huge waves were an ideal match for Lenny's confidence, who went on to secure two of the highest single waves scores of the day, an 8.0 and 7.75.
"These are the conditions I was hoping for for this event," said Lenny. "It's my first QS I've ever done and it was really nice to have a ton of waves in the heat especially bigger ones in the 10 to 12-foot range to make the heat to continue surfing. When the wind comes up and the current backs down I think it's going to get really good out there so I'm excited."
At just 13 years young, Robert Grilho III (Kapolei) impressed judges and contest organizers after advancing in first place ahead of Jordy Collins in his Round One heat. With only three waves ridden during the 24 minutes, Grilho survived with a combined heat total of 5.25.
"This is my first QS and it just feels good to get first in my first heat and boost my confidence level," said Grilho. "I didn't think I would do that great, and it's pretty bombing out there so I would think the bigger guys would have an advantage over me so, it just feels good and I'm pretty stoked."
The teen typically surfs Kewalos in Honolulu and Barbers Point in Kapolei, but has been putting in time at Sunset in preparation for both the QS and Pro Junior event this week.
"[Sunset] is pretty new for me, but I've been practicing here for a week or two and just getting advice from everyone," continued Grilho. "Out here, it's pretty much just positioning, not really the biggest wave." Grilho missed the opportunity to advance further after being stopped short in Round Two Heat 7, which saw South Africa's Sebastian Williams and Hawaii's Kekoa Cazimero advance.
Eliott Napias, an 18-year-old surfer from Tahiti, arrived on the North Shore a few days prior to prepare for his first ever QS event as well. He went against seasoned Hawaii surfers Takayuki Wakita and Jason Shibata and advanced in second behind Wakita by staying busy in the shifting waves.
"I was a little bit nervous before the heat because it's big and I had Wakita in my heat, he's a big name," said Napias. "This is the first time I've competed at Sunset, but I've surfed it before."
2016 was his final year as a Junior, which saw him place second at the Papara Pro Junior in Tahiti. Napias now looks to Australia for more QS events and will return to Hawaii to clock in more time on the North Shore.
Former Vans Triple Crown winner (2001) and last year's runner up at the Sunset Open Myles Padaca advanced behind Brazil's Lucas Silveira in Round Two after showcasing seasoned experience in the lineup. But advancement didn't come without tribulations as Padaca, 45, felt the inevitable exhaustion from surfing the big wave venue, which has a notoriously large playing field.
"It's pretty challenging out there today," said Padaca. "I paddled out this morning on a small board, a 7'0, and proceeded to get cleaned up on the west peak because there's a lot of current running through the lineup so you can't sit still the whole time. You have to be paddling so I'm pretty exhausted from that last heat, just stoked to scrape through really."