The Sunset Open is the little Qualifying Series (QS) contest that could. Its heat draw looks more like the QS 10,000 Vans World Cup at Sunset Beach than its status as a low-key, but important, regional QS 1,000. To be sure, it's an event that runs at a world-class wave, chock full of world-class talent. And with the North Shore's winter season now officially kicked into high gear after a recent three-week run of pumping surf and excellent conditions, the local Hawaiians are tuned-up and dialed in.
Sandwiched between the always entertaining Da Hui Shootout (a specialty event held every year at Pipeline) and the QS 3,000 Volcom Pipe Pro, the Sunset Open is the second stage of an unofficial Hawaiian "micro-leg" set to launch the 2018 Qualifying Series in the northern hemisphere. (Down in Oz, the Australian leg kicks things off in earnest with no fewer than six important QS events to begin the year, between now and the end of February).
With Round Two already nearly completed, a quick glance at the draw reveals the likes of heavy-water surfer Kai Lenny, North Shore prince Mason Ho and former World Champion Sunny Garcia.
"I'm just starting here on the QS and I feel like a QS 1,000 at Sunset is probably the equivalent of a QS10,000 in terms of the caliber of surfing," said Lenny. "It actually keeps me really sharp for the Big Wave Tour, I look at this more as a training aspect of my surfing more than anything. The goal is always to do as good as you can, though. If you're going to compete you might as well win, right?"
Ready to rock, too, are a trio of local upstarts fresh from the World Junior Championship, including Finn McGill, Cody Young and Barron Mamiya (more on them here). Yesterday, McGill won the Sunset Open Pro Junior, which runs alongside the Sunset Open, and the teen is on a competitive roll following his World Title victory in Kiama, NSW, Australia two weeks ago.
"Winning Worlds gave me a lot of confidence coming into the new season and I'm really stoked about it," said McGill, after his Sunset Pro Junior win. "I want to be in the top 75 at the end of this year on the QS and hopefully that works. I also want to win the junior region really bad."
A deeper dig into the Sunset draw reveals regional and international talent like 2017 Sunset Open winner, Jack Robinson, 2017 Hawaiian/Tahiti Nui Regional Champion Benji Brand, Sunset local Torrey Meister and 2x Pe'ahi Challenge winner Billy Kemper.
"There are so many talented surfers and it's a gnarly contest so it's definitely up there, it's cool," said Robinson, who's carrying on West Oz's Sunset Beach power tradition, following in the footsteps of Aussie legends Taj Burrow, Mitch Thorson and Ian Cairns. "It was a big talent pool [at the Sunset Open], I was definitely stoked to get the jump on them all."