For the first time, Papua New Guinea welcomed the World Surf League (WSL) to its beautiful shores for the inaugural Kumul PNG World Longboard Championships. This groundbreaking day was met with pumping, three-to-six foot waves that graced the righthand reefbreak of Tupira for the world's best longboarders. Men's Round One began the action and it was a barrel-fest to start the morning off, and welcome the international field of competitors to some true PNG power.
Ben Skinner, Alfonzo Pieters, Kevin Skvarna represented the first-ever heat on PNG soil and it was Skinner who found the Tupira gems for a big win. Skinner earned a 7.83 on his final wave to solidify the win and advance directly into Round Three. The British competitor looked poised and confident inside the hollow barrels on offer at the start of the event.
"It was epic, it really is amazing to be here in this beautiful place," Skinner said.
"We all didn't know what to expect coming in, what the wave was going to be like, how the culture was going to be and it's just been amazing. In the past I've put a lot of pressure on myself and I'm just not doing that anymore, I just want to enjoy it. How can you not when it's that good out there and that's what it's about to me now. It was great to surf with just two other people out there."
Two-time World Champion Piccolo Clemente followed Skinner's performance with a 7.23 and had Great Britain's newest threat, Joe Hornbuckle, in a combination situation when the last horn sounded with Lucas Garrido Lecca needing an 8.27. Clemente's style on the open face and knowledge inside the tube provided him with the tools he needed to open up strong.
"This morning we woke up to really good conditions and it slowed down for my heat, but I just waited for a good one and it worked out," Clemente said. "I love this place, it's incredible to see this wave and experience a culture like this. It's such a perfect, strong wave and the exact opposite of China and it's such a good test for us."
But it was Taylor Jensen who turned heads with the first excellent score, an 8.00, of the day to begin his PNG campaign. Jensen's powerful down carve in a punchy section followed his stylish noseriding on the open face. The American-turned-Australian-transplant knows what it will take to earn a World Title with a multi-event series now on offer and proved he's a threat here at Tupira to begin that campaign here.
"I knew right away it was bigger just hearing it in the dark," Jensen said.
"That wind earlier this morning was a little tricky but it made the wave really hollow so when I paddled out for my heat I thought there may be more barrels. But, as soon as I got out there I saw the wind die and knew it would come down to just good surfing and draw things out a little bit."
"Whoever wins this event is looking really good going into the next event because the points are so top-heavy," Jensen added. "I'd really like to start off strong here and going to that Taiwan wave for the last five years in a row, it's really different to this so I think we're going to get a really unique champion."
Surfing history was made in Round One, Heat 5 as Papua New Guine's National Champion, Titima Mange, was the first-ever representative of his country of PNG in a WSL event as fellow countryman Akun Alois followed in Heat 6. Though it was Shohei Akimoto who came out with the win over Mange, this marks an incredible day for the surfing future of PNG.
Phil Rajzman opened up strong to begin his Title defense here at Tupira and advanced directly to Round Three with a big win over Australian Jack Entwistle and wildcard selection Alois. The Brazilian is a long way from home, but has been abroad training and preparing for this event -- and is now in an entirely new culture that has captivated him.
"The wave was really good and I'm in love with PNG, the locals are just amazing -- everything's incredible," Rajzman said. "I got some good barrels this morning, but in my heat it was different conditions and still just as heavy and fun. I spent three months in Hawaii and after that I went to Australia so I'm feeling really confident. Everyone here has the potential to be a World Champion so it's not easy, but I came here prepared to do my best."
The list of World Champions was rounded out by a terrific performance from 2014's Champion Harley Ingleby with a solid showcase of his style and speed through critical maneuvers to earn a spot into Round Three.
"We had a really slow start and I started questioning myself on the waves I was letting go since it's looks so different from down the point, but it's absolutely pumping when they come. This is easily the best waves I've ever seen for a longboard event, if not for a very long time so we're all stoked."
Tune in live tomorrow at 8:00am AEDT for a chance to witness more history made as either men's Round Two or women's Round Two will get underway.