This week, in venues as varied as Tel Aviv, Sydney, Sebastian Inlet and Sunset Beach, hundreds of surfers are kicking off their 2018 Qualifying Series (QS) campaigns in the hopes of earning a coveted spot on the elite 2019 Championship Tour (CT).
The QS is where pro surfing dreams are made and shattered. It's surfing's minor leagues, and the long slog through it is affectionately called The Grind. Here's how it works:
Surfers have more than 70 events to choose from in over 20 countries, each is weighted by its prize purse into one of four categories: QS 1,000, QS 3,000, QS 6,000, and QS 10,000. The larger the number, the more precious points and prize money available. A QS 10,000 victory nets the winner a massive 10,000 points, whereas a QS 1,000 is worth -- yup, you guessed it: 1,000.
Competitive careers begin at entry level QS 1,000 and QS 3,000 stops. The right to compete in larger QS 6,000 and QS 10,000 is earned by QS ranking. While there are hundreds of surfers who'd like to compete in the life-altering QS 10,000 events, only 120 slots are available, and typically 20 of those are taken by CT surfers hedging their bets, or simply keeping their blades sharp.
Surfers are free to wander the globe and compete in as many events as they can qualify for, but only their best five results count toward their year-end QS ranking. And when it's all said and done and the mist clears at Sunset Beach -- the final stop -- only 10 surfers will qualify from the QS rankings (and just six on the women's side) for the next year's Championship Tour.
In such an endurance sport, success in the opening sprint is often crucial.
French surfer Jorgann Couzinet is a prime example of that. Last year the Reunion-born, France-based naturalfooter entered the Seat Pro Netanya ranked outside the top 100 on the QS. By the time he surfed through to the Final, the 1,000 QS points he secured for coming in second vaulted him 50 places up the QS rankings and set him up for a strong Australian leg. He ended occupying a spot in the Top 10 for most of the year, before finishing the year in 17th, exactly 100 spots higher than when he first entered the Mediterranean Sea the year before.
This year, with the Seat Pro Netanya pres by Reef upgraded to a QS3,000 there are even more points on offer. A Quarterfinal finish, for example, nets 1260 points. If that doesn't seem like a whole lot, it's worth noting that four of the surfers who qualified in 2017 counted their Israeli points haul as one of their top 5 results. Compiling a chunk of points so early in the season can make a huge difference -- and not just to your scoreline.
Over in Hawaii, the event window for the Sunset Open -- a QS1,000 -- opens January 18. What it might lack in qualifying points, it makes up for with a whole lot of credibility. "There's so many talented surfers and it's a gnarly contest so to win here is up there with the anything I've done in my career," Jack Robinson said last year, after claiming his first ever QS victory at Sunset. With the very best surfers from Hawaii, from 16-year-old prodigies to 40-something veterans, the Sunset Open provides a unique opportunity. Sure, there are the 1,000 valuable QS seeding points available, but being a Sunset winner is something a surfer has for life.
Over in Australia, the event window for the Carve Pro also kicks off January 18, at Sydney's Maroubra beach. It is the both the first event of the Vissla NSW Pro Surf Series, which includes four men's and women's Qualifying Series 1,000-level events that over the next six weeks. Many surfers entering the event at Maroubra will be aiming to kick-start their year with competitive success which could help in securing a place in the bigger QS 6,000 events at Newcastle and Manly. The Carve Pro is clogged with many of the international competitors from the recent World Junior Championships held in Kiama, as well as established QS Aussie favorites like Cooper Chapman, Luke Hynd and Shane Campbell.
In Florida this week, the women's side of the ledger is kicking into high gear with the QS 6,000 Ron Jon Florida Pro pres by Sunshine State Florida Lager at Sebastian Inlet -- the same wave that made the career of that ageless grinder, 45-year-old Kelly Slater -- while the men will get going with a QS 1,500, the Florida Pro pres by Sunshine State Florida Lager.
For competitors surfing the famous wedge of the Inlet, the Dunny Bowl of Maroubra, the renowned Inside Bowl at Sunset or the Mediterranean ramps of Kontiki Beach in Israel, the next 10 days will set the tone for several professional surfing careers. The race is on.