There are only two ways to earn one of two precious wildcard entries for the Hurley Pro at Trestles -- either you win the invite-only Hurley Team trials or the San Clemente local trials.
Back in late July, during the local trials held in micro conditions at San Clemente's T-Street, Evan Geiselman -- who's actually from New Smyrna Beach, Florida, but spends enough time in San Clemente to get a locals invite -- beat Qualifying Series No. 5 Griffin Colapinto on his home turf, while Hiroto Ohhara overcame Griffin's little brother, 16-year-old Crosby Colapinto, in the Hurley team trials. (Here's more on the Colapintos).
Following his second Hurley trials win in two years, Ohhara half-jokingly said that all he wanted was to avoid John John Florence in the Hurley Pro draw. Unfortunately for the surfer from Chiba, Japan, his wish went unanswered. He'll face the current World Champ in Round One, as well as Brazilian powerhouse Italo Ferreira.
And while there's plenty of motivation on the table for Ohhara and Geiselman -- cash, exposure, experience, the chance to surf Lowers with only one or two other surfers in the lineup -- both Trials winners will be looking for their respective redemptions.
Geiselman -- who will face Jeep Leader Jordy Smith and Ian Gouveia in Round One -- finished No. 19 overall on the Qualifying Series (QS) at the end of the season last year, just outside the qualification cutoff zone. Another close call with the Championship Tour left the lanky goofyfooter suffering from a near-miss hangover for the first half of 2017. But after a recent trip to Skeleton Bay, Namibia, that was full of mind-bending barrels, Geiselman seems to have re-found his mojo.
"It only takes one event or one score in a crucial moment to turn your year around, I'm hoping this is that moment," he said at the time. After a third-place finish at the Vans Pro QS event last week, he now sits well within striking distance at No. 30 (prior to rankings updates following the completion of the QS 6,000 Pull&Bear Pantin Classic Galicia Pro, which is currently in the Round of 24 over in Spain).
Ohhara enters the fray at Lowers ranked No. 10 on the Qualifying Series, snuggly bookended between grizzled QS grinders Pat Guduaskas at No. 9 and No. 11 Ricardo Christie. The compact surfer from Japan has been here before. He won the 2015 Hurley Team Trials and it's his second chance at surfing against the CT crew, but he'll be hoping for better results. His first go around didn't last long; two years ago he lost in Round Two at the hands of Josh Kerr.
If the 2017 Hurley Pro Trestles wildcards hope to replicate the impact of the two who made it in last year, they've got their work cut out for them. Last year, Hurley team trials winner and former CT veteran Brett Simpson reached the Quarterfinals, eliminating Jeep Leader John John Florence and world No. 2 Matt Wilkinson in the process. Local wildcard Tanner Gudauskas performed even better. He merely managed to go unbeaten until his loss in the Semis to Joel Parkinson, a run that included a perfect 10-point ride in Round One and a contentious win in Round Three over Gabriel Medina that sparked a social media furor due to its World Title implications.
Despite the big pay day, the elite level experience, and some valuable global exposure, for both wildcards the event is really an exhibition. A high-stakes one, to be sure, but one that will have no bearing on their Qualifying Series rankings. That said, sometimes a good CT result can light a QS spark. Yago Dora is the latest example. His sensational 3rd place finish at the Oi Rio Pro seemed to give him a big burst of momentum on the QS, where he's currently No. 7, which puts him right in the hunt for a CT slot in 2018.
For Ohhara and Geiselman, anything close to what Dora did in Saquarema could turn a year full of potential into something great.
Be sure to watch the Hurley Pro Trestles and the Women's CT Swatch Pro, which runs Sept. 6 - 17.