It was a day of days for one of professional surfing's veterans as Nathan Yeomans earned a long-awaited WSL Qualifying Series (QS) victory at the Shoe City Pro QS 1,000 pres. by ZEVN -- going on nearly a decade since his 2009 O'Neil Coldwater Classic win. A former Championship Tour (CT) surfer, the 36-year-old showed he still has what it takes to embark on a marathon day of competition, surfing through five heats, and make another Final appearance at Huntington Beach -- this time against fellow San Clemente, California, surfer Elijah Fox.
But, fortune favored Yeomans, who had a difficult year with his family in 2017, for a well-deserved victory.
"It always feels good to make a Final, but to win one is just epic," Yeomans said. "It's so cool to have an event right here at home and push myself, I still enjoy competing -- especially against these kids and just giving them little tidbits of information along the way. It's been a while, just not competing toward the end of last year after we went through a lot with our third child being born."
"It was [crazy], my wife almost didn't make it and our daughter was in the hospital for a while after that," Yeomans added. "You don't take anything for granted, even the average days are a blessing after going through hardship like that. We weathered the storm and God's blessed us so we're really thankful."
Yeomans began his surge toward the Final by overcoming some event standouts along the way, including Makai McNamara in the Quarterfinals and Kevin Schulz in a tight, Semifinal battle. But Yeomans continued to find the waves he needed, including the event's best single-wave score of a 9.43 (out of a possible 10) in Round 3, and now looks poised for more big results.
"This is a huge momentum-builder and now I'm just hoping to get into the US Open (a QS 10,000 coming up in July), and put it to some of the world's best there," Yeomans said. "I'd like to take down the North America QS title as well, I know it takes a lot, but a win never hurts that cause. I just really want to do what it takes to get into that Top 100 again and give it my all."
Elijah Fox's Breakthrough
Fox gave Yeomans a battle for his win, coming down to the last exchange in a slow Final, but came up just short of the 4.60 requirement after Yeomans added a 4.33 to his scoreline on his last wave. The 19-year-old looked unstoppable, winning every heat of his day until the Final, and showed just the beginning of his potential with innovative surfing throughout the competition. This marks a massive step in Fox's young career as his first-ever QS Final, and he now looks to take on the QS full-time after graduating high school.
"I'm pretty stoked to make my first Final and get some fun waves along the way," Fox said. "I got to share a Final with the guy who's been on Tour, what more could you ask for? He surfed really well, but it would've been great to get some more waves for both of us in it. I could feel some momentum going my way just landing those airs yesterday and today, luckily had that south wind to help [laughs]. But, I feel confident going forward now and I'll start seeing what events I can do to give them a go."
A New North America Regional QS No. 1: Kevin Schulz
In an all-San Clemente Semifinal, an in-form Schulz nearly made his second Huntington Beach Final of 2018, but fell to eventual winner Yeomans in a wave-for-wave battle. The 22-year-old crept through the day, earning runner-up finishes to advance in Rounds 3 and 4, until an explosive Quarterfinal with event threat Jake Marshall. Though Schulz didn't make it to the Final, he still takes over the North America QS Rankings No. 1.
"It was great to see two of my best friends in a Final and to surf against Nate was a blast," Schulz said. "I'm psyched to take over that top regional spot, but we still have Acapulco next month and a few more this year so we'll see how it all goes.All these little things are coming together and this one big dream is becoming a reality."
First-Time Success for Ariihoe Tefaafana
In a rematch from Round 3, Tahitian Ariihoe Tefaafana took on Fox in the Semifinals and leaves his first event at Huntington Beach with an equal-third finish. But, Tefaafana was all smiles exiting the water alongside Fox after a brilliant day of competing, including an impressive win over Tyler Gunter in their Quarterfinal bout. Tefaafana has his goals set high and will be one to watch this year moving forward.
"This is my first time surfing in North America and I just wanted to come have fun," he said. "You never know how it's going to go when you travel far to these events and you have to be prepared mentally, but I enjoy this life on the QS. I'm happy to head home with this result after not expecting much. Now I'll head home and train for the next month to prepare for the back-half of this year."