The Australian Open of Surfing saw an action-packed day of massive scores and upsets as competitors reveled in the most picturesque conditions of the event period so far.
Contest wildcard Cam Richards continued his rampage through the Australian World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) leg, eliminating recent Newcastle Surfest champion Yago Dora and World Junior Championship runner-up Griffin Colapinto in Round Two. The South Carolina goofyfooter performed an array of aerial maneuvers to put his opponents on the ropes and progress into Round Three alongside Kalani Ball, who finished in the runner-up position. Ironically, Richards and Ball both finished in first and second, respectively, in the recent Carve Pro QS1000 at Maroubra back in late January.
"I'm really happy, it's nice to get past that seeding round, especially since I came into this event as a wildcard," said Richards. "I actually didn't mean to look at who I had in my heat before I surfed, but I accidently saw it and I spent the last day thinking about it. I ended up adopting the thought that if I win, great, but don't worry about it too much."
Upcoming Quiksilver Pro wildcard Mikey Wright didn't let a niggling ankle injury slow him down in Round Three. Wright took a heat victory ahead of 2016 Championship Tour surfers Kanoa Igarashi and Alex Ribeiro. Wright waited patiently in the lineup requiring a 7.23 wave score to take the lead, and with three minutes remaining in the heat, mustered a 7.83. The score moved him from fourth to first and on to the heat win.
"Before the heat a lot of righthanders came through, but it dried up a lot as soon at the heat started," said Wright. "I just stuck to my guns and thankfully something came through in the final few minutes. I'm really focused on taking it heat-by-heat and hopefully I can get as far as I can."
Smart heat strategy played a crucial role in young American Taylor Clark's Round Two victory. While his opponents sat to the south opting to catch righthanders, he sat further north. Clark found a variety of punchy lefts that were duly rewarded with a 14.10 heat total (out of a possible 20 points).
"This is the best I've gone in a QS6,000 event, so I'm feeling great," said Clark. "These are the best waves we've had over the event window so far, so I'm stoked I got to have a heat out there. I'm trying to just go out there from now on and focus on the waves instead of who I have in the heat."
Shane Campbell claimed one of the most rewarding heat wins of his career, along the way eliminating current World Junior Champion Ethan Ewing from the competition. The Cronulla naturalfooter scored an excellent 8.00 wave score to keep his opponents at arms length and progressed into Round Three.
"I saw that heat [draw] before it started and I began to get a bit nervous, to be honest," said Campbell. "That win is one of the most satisfying ones I've had, especially since Ethan has made the CT for 2017, so to get a win over him feels great. My whole game plan for this year is just to attack the sections I get rather than to just finish waves, and so far it's been working."
With a high tide filling in at Manly, Ryan Callinan opted to take the few ramps that were still on offer as he attacked his Round Two heat. Requiring a mid-range score to move into the runner-up spot, Callinan threw down one of the most innovative aerials seen all event to post a near-perfect 9.60. That score pushed him into the lead ahead of fellow goofyfooter, Hawaiian Koa Smith, who also progressed through the heat in second position.
"This is a pretty good feeling, but I'm trying not to get too excited about it, people tend to act like you've won the event when you get a good score, but I think it's important for me to remember that it's still my first round," said Callinan. "I had a good start at Newcastle Surfest but then I backed it up with an average second heat. Hopefully I can keep the momentum going from this and get a decent result."
Californian Tanner Gudauskas capitalized on his years of pro surfing experience to take a victory ahead of his fancied opponents, Rafael Teixeira, Jake Marshall and Brett Simpson who finished in second, third and fourth respectively. Gudauskas remained in the lead for the majority of the heat, posting 7.33 and 8.43 wave scores for multiple chains of backside snaps and a heat total of 15.76.
"The heats have been really gnarly in this event," said Gudauskas. "Manly definitely has a bunch of different faces depending on what tide you have. The waves actually remind me a lot of San Clemente where I grew up, so I feel comfortable surfing waves like this as it's what I grew up surfing every day."