- WSL / Ethan Smith
- WSL / Ethan Smith

Sometimes the only way to break out on the ultra-competitive Qualifying Series (QS) stage is to leave the comfort of your home region. Case in point: Cam Richards. After starting 2017 with a solid 7th-place finish at the Shoe City Pro in Huntington Beach 1,000-level QS contest, the South Carolina native jumped on a flight to Australia and took the region's QS series by storm. He's now No. 2 on the Qualifying Series.

Prize Giving Cam reaping his rewards on the Carve Pro QS1,000 podium. - WSL / Bennett

Cam's Aussie tear began the moment he pulled on a jersey in Sydney for the Carve Pro QS1,000. The goofyfooter's electric display of carves and airs made him a standout all week despite the average Maroubra Beach surf. Still, Cam seemed a bit surprised when he made it all the way to the Final against Australian ripper Kalani Ball -- and won.

"This is all pretty unexpected to be honest," Richards said after the win. "I haven't really competed too much and thought I'd see how I went on this Australian leg of events. I guess this is a pretty good start."

Cam Richards (USA) Richards tagging a clean Huntington Beach lip on his way to a 7th-place finish at the Shoe City Pro last month. - WSL / John W. Ferguson

While mostly known for his freesurfing prowess, Richards has also dabbled in competition, too, competing on the Qualifying and Junior Series for the past five years. He quickly learned, however, that bouncing between video parts and contests can really mess with a surfer's psyche. After his strong start in Australia, he's committed to the latter in 2017. Yet to crack the top 200 on the international ranks, Cam's already on his way to his best season yet. For now though, the 21-year-old is simply fired up to compete.

"Last year on the QS was a weird one," Cam admitted. "I couldn't really make up my mind on what I wanted to like, freesurfing or contests, so I was in a weird mind trip. Now, at least for the first half of the year, I'm going to give it a pretty good shot."

Caleb Tancred winning The Final of the 2017 Carve Pro. Cam's committed approach shines even when the waves aren't pumping. - WSL / Ethan Smith

After the Carve Pro it was onto Cabarita Beach for Telstra Stores Tweed Coast Pro QS1,000. Once again the waves were marginal at best and, like clockwork, Cam ripped his way to the Final. This time, though, he came up just short against another on-fire Aussie, Ty Watson. But after casually making the Final for his second consecutive contest, Cam didn't seem too upset.

"Going into this event I just thought what ever happens, happens," Richards said. "Another Final is really sweet and second is a good result, so I'm stoked."

Cam Richards finished runner-up at the Telstra Stores Tweed Coast Pro Richards in his second consecutive Final in 2017. Not bad for a self-proclaimed freesurfer. - WSL / Bennett

Richards' momentum was still going as of last week, at the Komunity Project Great Lakes Pro QS1,000, where he scored a solid 9th-place result. Still, these small regional contests will only get Cam so far. He knows his QS destiny will ultimately come down to how he performs in top-tier events. But many QS warriors would kill for his momentum. Because whether it's a QS1,000 or QS10,000, coming in with confidence can make all the difference.

"To come from a place like Garden City to winning a QS on the other side of the world is pretty weird," Richards said. "But, it was really awesome to see all the support I had from my home town...it always feels good to win because at times it's almost like they are more stoked than I am. It's super amazing."

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