A big day for Sebastian Inlet awaits Thursday's first call at the highest-rated women's Qualifying Series (QS) event ever held in Florida -- the Ron Jon Florida Pro pres by Sunshine State Florida Lager. It's been a long time coming for the women to make a big mark at the QS level in the Sunshine State and some of the world's best are on hand to do just that.
A formidable women's field which includes seven current Championship Tour (CT) competitors, along with six former CT surfers looking to find their way back to the elite tour have arrived to jump right into the mix.
Tatiana Weston-Webb prepares to begin her third year on the CT and wants to jump into a competition jersey right away. The Kauaian managed to double-qualify, meaning she finished in the Top 6 of the QS and Top 10 of the CT, with a few impressive performances scattered throughout 2017 and now looks to improve once more. But, results aside, Weston-Webb knows the importance of these events from her time among surfing's elite.
"I always support events that give back to women's surfing, and provide plenty of opportunities for us," she said. "I know that the QS has had a bit of difficulty solidifying the high-rated events so to have this event at the beginning of the year is a great opportunity to get valuable points right away. I've been training hard in the off-season in Brazil for about a month, so I definitely feel strong, and excited coming into this event."
It's been a long three years away from the CT for New Zealand's Paige Hareb, meanwhile, after spending five years on the elite stage. Hareb's terrific run last season earned her the No. 9 spot on the QS and, with three surfers double-qualifying, found her way back to the Top 17 -- that is, the CT. The 27-year-old still has a lot of surfing planned in her career and is putting the time in early to get the competitive spark on track.
"It's nice to have a chance to get off to a good start at the very beginning of the year," Hareb said. "The 6,000-level events and ladies surfing in them are only getting stronger and stronger, it's so good to see and be a part of. I've never been here and I love traveling so hopefully I can find some cool little spots in the area. I can definitely say I have more confidence. I've qualified twice now so I know I can do it and compete with the best but in saying that there's some amazing talent coming through."
But, these top seeds will have to deal with potential threats such as wildcard Rachel Presti, who's also a Florida native. Presti had a breakthrough year on the North America Junior Tour with a No. 5 finish after notching her first-ever Finals appearance in Barbados. The 15-year-old continues to grow through the sport of surfing and has her eyes set on some big goals in 2017.
"I think it's really cool to see my friends from all over the world come to my home town and get the Florida vibe," Presti said. "It's very exciting because it's such a large event and great way to start off the year. An event like this gives me a great chance to see how I stand up against big girls. Also, every heat I surf makes me more comfortable and confident surfing in these bigger events."
Tune in LIVE throughout the event window to watch all the action unfold alongside the Florida Pro Men's QS1,500.
The Florida Pro pres. by Sunshine State Florida Lager runs alongside the Ron Jon Florida Pro pres. by Sunshine State Florida Lager Women's QS6,000 January 18 through 24.