Opening day of the Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro Men's Qualifying Series (QS) 1,000 event was a mixture of barrels and big turns as local and international surfers navigated the challenging right-hand reef break of Rangiroa. The head-high surf provided the perfect canvas for high-scoring potential, and standout performer Imaikalani DeVault (HAW) made a mark on the competition with the highest single wave score of the day, a 9.50, for a double barrel and beautiful arching turn.
DeVault went up against Peruvian powerhouse Cristobal De Col, fellow Hawaii athlete Luke Shepardson and Tahiti's David Dandois and nabbed the near-perfect wave early for a strong lead in the 30-minute heat. De Col put up a fight with a 5.50 and 7.00, but DeVault was impossible to catch after backing up his excellent score with a 6.25.
"I knew the wave was going to barrel, but I didn't really know what it was going to do," said deVault after his heat. "I pulled into the first part and saw that it was running down the line so I didn't even try to stand in, I just pumped out and raced into the next section. Luckily I did because if I wouldn't have raced in the beginning I probably wouldn't have made it."
"I was just lucky," DeVault continued about his 9.50 ride. "I kind of messed up before that too because a few minutes before I got the barrel, I had priority and went on a bad wave. And then the two waves behind me were good so the other guys got it, but luckily I fell back into priority after their two waves and an even better one came. So it was just luck, right place, right time."
This is the second year the Maui surfer has competed in the Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro, and the experience he has gained from other international and regional QS events has been critical. He recently had a Semifinal finish at the Sunset Open and will compete in the Papara Pro Open next week in Tahiti.
"I'm doing as many QS events as I can," DeVault said. "I'm right on the verge of being in the 6,000's so I do all the ones that I can get into and a bunch of the 3,000's and then I'll do all of the regional ones. The main goal right now is just to get into the Triple Crown and then from there make heats so I can get into the bigger ones."
The first heat of the morning featured Maui boy Makana Eleogram, and Tahitian threats Vehiatua Prunier and Warren Peckett, who set the standard for scores and fired up the competition. This is Eleogram's first time competing at Rangiroa yet the goofy-footer looked strong on his backhand and posted the second highest score of the day, an 8.00.
"I'm feeling pretty good, I'm feeling pretty confident," said Eleogram. "I'm just having fun, not really thinking about the contest, just want to get some good waves. It's cool there's priority, so I just wait for the best wave and hopefully do some work."
The younger brother to Olamana Eleogram, Makana competed in amateur events when he was younger, and a few QS events as well, but this is his first professional competition in four years. Makana currently works on a boat in Maui and decided to come to Tahiti for good surf and to accompany older brother Olamana Eleogram (HAW), who will make his debut in Heat 7 of Round Two.
"A lot of the Hawaii guys here I grew up surfing with because I used to compete when I was younger," said Makana. "So it's pretty cool seeing all of them again. There are a lot of really good Hawaii guys and a lot of very talented Tahitians."
Tikanui Smith tied Eleogram for the second highest score of the day in Round One Heat 4 by demonstrating excellent power surfing in the fun-sized surf. A standout at Tahitian big wave venue Teahupo'o, Smith proved his versatility in smaller waves and advanced ahead of William Peckett and Billy Choi with flair and commitment. Peckett, also from the main island of Tahiti, advanced behind Smith and looks forward to his next heat. He also travels to Rangiroa regularly to take advantage of the beautiful, uncrowded surf.
"When Rangiroa is big it's pretty heavy, when it's small it's easy to surf," said Peckett. "It's a good right, I like it. "
Anthony Walsh (HAW) looked confident on his backhand and delivered powerful turns to stay in advancing position throughout his 30-minute heat against Tahiti's Heremoana Luciani and Kauai's Evan Valiere. However it was Luciani who finished first with the best wave of the heat, a 7.25 for three solid turns, and a combined heat total of 13.75, with Walsh clocking a 11.75. Valiere was knocked out of the competition, but looks to next week where he will compete again at the Papara Pro Open Tahiti Men's QS1,000.