The North America Regional Qualifying Series (QS) Tour will begin at Sebastian Inlet, Florida. The inaugural Florida Pro presented by Florida Sunshine State Lager Men's QS1,500 and Women's QS6,000 will run January 18 - 24 and will get the women's qualification race started early.
This also marks the return of a men's QS to Sebastian Inlet for the first time since 2009. North America General Manager Meg Bernardo continues to see the regional schedule grow in the right direction.
"We couldn't be more excited with the addition of another major women's event alongside building the men's schedule for our up-and-coming surfers," Bernardo said. "2017 was a great year for us and this coming year is looking to be even more promising with these two events to start the season off. Our office knows how dedicated Mitch Varnes and his team are to keeping events in Florida with the success of their Cocoa Beach event staying on schedule as well. We're really looking forward to seeing what's in store for January."
Event director Mitch Varnes was adamant about getting a big event back in Florida since he's brought the Junior Tour to Cocoa Beach six years running. Now, with a lot of support from local tourism, Varnes and his team are able to bring a QS back to Sebastian Inlet for the first time in nearly a decade. But, the Florida Pro crew have something a little extra special in mind for their inaugural event.
"We're super excited to get a high level of surfing back in Florida and the Space Coast Tourism Board was always interested in a women's event so it's great to see them fully behind this," Varnes said. "They were able to raise most of the funds and secure Florida Beer Company as a big sponsor to help with the rest. Our goal was to attract some of the world's best with a QS6,000 event and it'll be great to have a homecoming for Caroline Marks, as she qualified for the 2018 CT. We'll also be giving the winner a to be determined bonus to make this the richest prize purse for the women."
"Florida's Space Coast has been known as the East Coast capital of surfing since the 1960s," Space Coast Tourism Marketing Director Tiffany Minton said. "Legends such as Kelly Slater and CJ Hobgood grew up here and we are stoked to bring the Florida Pro to Sebastian Inlet this January. We're also pleased to have Florida icon Matt Kechele as the event director on the competitive side of things for both men's and women's contests."
All the work being done by Mitch Varnes, his team, and the Space Coast Tourism Board are all for surfers such Marks, the 15-year-old 2018 CT rookie. Marks grew up surfing up and down the East Coast for amateur events and Junior Tour events in Cocoa Beach.
"It's going to be a lot fun to see some of the top-level girls coming in town for a big event just down the road from where I grew up," Marks said. "The talent level is just getting higher and higher, and I'm really excited to see what happens next with the sport in coming years. To have opportunities like these is huge for our sport to have that next step happen. It'll be great to have all my family there and get to spend more time with them at the start of the year."
Fellow Floridian Evan Geiselman is the reigning Ron Jon Vans Pro winner and can secure another Florida title under his belt in 2018. The New Smyrna Beach, Florida, native didn't have the number of opportunities along the East Coast that today's surfers do, including the four events currently on schedule for 2018 from Florida up to Virginia Beach.
"The Sebastian Inlet Pro was the event I most looked forward to as a kid, so it's incredible to see it back on the schedule," Geiselman said. "To have events continue to grow in Florida is great for the kids coming up as well, being part of the North America region. To win that Regional Title is huge. It was tough growing up and having to travel around the world for these lower-tiered events to get a seed at all, but now you can get right into the major events by winning that title and have plenty of events to do so."
A full 2018 WSL schedule is here.
The Florida Pro presented by Florida State Sunshine Lager will run January 18 through 24 at Sebastian Inlet, Florida.