A rising nor'easter delivered fun, one-to-three-foot conditions to start Thursday's action at the Vans Pro Men's Qualifying Series (QS) 3,000. The remaining six heats of Round Three ran before diving straight into Round Four battles where top seeds made their big debuts.
Sparks ignited with powerful, high-performance surfing from some of the QS elite and Championship Tour (CT) competitors in attendance to determine crucial Round Five matchups.
Chiba, Japan, native Reo Inaba unleashed two critical turns on a 1st Street Jetty gem for a near-perfect 9.77 -- the event's highest single-scoring wave so far. Inaba's prowess in small waves gave him a big edge as he had the field in a combination situation, meaning the competitors needed two new scores to match Inaba's heat total, when the final horn sounded. The Japanese contender currently sits at No. 124 on the QS and looks to hit his stride heading into the back half of 2017.
"That was a super fun heat and surfing waves like this at home helps my confidence coming here each year," Inaba said. "I really want to get some good points here since I haven't done too well this year so this one is important. This is my first year in the QS10,000s and I want to keep building up to those with good results. It's really exciting, but I'm also nervous at the same time so I'll have to stay focused on each heat and each event as they happen."
Former CT competitor Keanu Asing found near-perfection of his own with a 9.23 and highest heat total of the event so far -- a 16.90. The South Shore, Oahu native is on track to making his way back to the Dream Tour after a solid start to 2017, but he's looking to shake off an early upset at the Vans US Open of Surfing. Asing's competitive surfing year isn't the only thing looking bright after recently marrying long-time girlfriend Kailin Curran.
"Growing up in Ewa Beach, the waves are similar to this and I have such a good board from Wade Tokoro that I brought here so I'm already feeling comfortable," Asing said. "It's definitely important to get some confidence back, I usually compete really well at the US open and this year was a rough one for me. But, that's what comes with competition -- you learn and move forward."
"I'm always in striking distance of that Top 10, but I'm not thinking of points right now, I'm thinking of just getting to the podium," Asing added. "I know if I get to that podium will come with good points and I know I have to step on the gas coming to the ending of the year. But, married life is amazing, me and my wife Kailin just got married two weeks ago now. We had such a blessed and amazing day. I feel very matured, my head's in the right place, and now I'm another step closer to my goals for this year. For me getting married to my wife was the biggest goal not only this year, but in my life."
After Kanoa Igarashi first-ever Vans US Open of Surfing win, he finds himself at No. 3 on the QS to back up his sophomore slump on the CT. The Huntington Beach, California native made it his goal to stay in a jersey this year and has done just that -- already taking part in six QS events in addition to his Dream Tour schedule. Igarashi began his momentum in Europe last year to re-qualify, in addition to making it in the Top 22 of the CT for double re-qualification, but is already on the right path to find his winning form earlier in the year.
"That win will be in the back of my head for awhile and I'll just keep running with it, and see how far I can take that momentum with me," Igarashi said. "This is my favorite part of the year, the first half is fun, but I feel like the back half is my where my strengths are and going into the US Open I told myself this where the year starts. I put myself in a good position heading into this part of the season which gives me a sense of confidence and I'm not as worried moving forward."
Current QS No. 5 Griffin Colapinto returns to Virginia Beach a full-time QS surfer, after earning a spot in the Vans Pro Junior last year, and did so with an unrivaled forehand in Round Four's opening heat. The 19-year-old showed his growing maturity in competitive surfing with patience and attacking the opportunities that came to him -- earning an 8.17 and 15.07 heat total out of his three waves ridden. Colapinto is taking advantage of the Virginia Beach atmosphere before preparing for an important European leg ahead of him.
"I saw the wind pick up last night and knew there'd be those perfect little chip shots at high tide so I was pretty stoked on the conditions today," Colapinto said. "I was just trying to be smart and wait for the right waves which helps a lot in these events. It makes a big difference from where my surfing was when I first started the QS to now and I just want to keep building on that. I came here looking for some momentum heading into Europe and get some heats under my belt, I basically have to win this one for it to be a keeper so I'm here having fun. It's great to be able to come here with that mentality and I'm looking forward to the next heat."
Miguel Pupo continues to impress at the Vans Pro with his fourth-straight heat win to earn a spot into Round Five. The Brazilian CT competitor found his rhythm late in the heat after a slow start and made a big comeback to overcome Australian contender Wade Carmichael, 2016 North America QS Regional Champion Kilian Garland, and an in-form Facundo Arreyes. Pupo's mindset to stay busy paid off, but still feels there's more to improve on after a blistering Round One performance earlier this week.
"I woke up late in that heat after trying to find waves, but here the wave has to find you it seems," Pupo said. "I haven't been freesurfing and saving my energy for heats which has helped a lot. My first heat was my best one and I've just been trying to better that, but just keep coming a little short each time. My goal is to find the wave and stay busy, and in rhythm with the ocean, which I can hopefully do tomorrow if there's more waves. It looks similar to north Brazil and know those waves pretty well so I just had to go back there in my mind to figure it out -- it took me 20 minutes, but it was good to finally get find them."
Event organizers will reconvene in the morning to make a 7:30 a.m. EDT call for a possible 8:00 a.m. EDT start.
The Vans Pro Men's QS3,000 and Pro Junior will run August 22 through 27 in coordination with the historical East Coast Surfing Championships (ECSC) -- the world's second-longest running contest, now in its 55th year, behind Bells Beach.