In marathon fashion, a style of competition that Qualifying Series (QS) competitors are accustom to, the Murasaki Shonan Open QS 1,500 supported by Nissan Caravan wrapped with Japan's own Joh Azuchi taking a huge, first-ever QS victory. With the persistence of Super Typhoon Maria still sending waves as it tears through the East China Sea, three-to-four foot swell was on offer and Azuchi emerged victorious after surfing five times en route to his win over Jordan Lawler.
Azuchi Emerges Victorious
The Final was a close affair, with both surfers doing their best to pick up the one gem and pull off the one move that would separate them from their opponent. Azuchi and Lawler were evenly matched and for a large portion of the heat -- each having two average, meaning they were between a 4 - 5.9 (out of a possible 10). Azuchi's fast start garnered him a 5.00 right away, but Lawler scratched his way back, earning a 5.10. But, the Australian couldn't find the 4.80 required as waves became scarce until the horn sounded and the young Japanese competitor came away with a big upset, and his maiden QS win.
"This win means a lot to me and it was a long way to get to the top of the podium today," Azuchi said. "The heat continued and I was getting really tired throughout the day, but I was able to win by knowing I wouldn't give up until the end. I couldn't be happier than to take that win. In the future, I would like to train a lot more and really give a go at the biggest events as I move forward with my career."
Jordan Lawler Continues Impressive 2018 Season
Even though it's a runner-up for Lawler, his second of the year and third Finals appearance of 2018, the Australian can walk away with an added 450 points and all but secured his place among the Top 100 before the re-seed following the Vans US Open of Surfing. Lawler was an easy standout throughout this event, taking down Japanese QS threat Hiroto Ohhara in a tight Semifinal that went down to the final two minutes after eliminating fellow countrymen Harley Ross in the Quarterfinals.
The Aussie was in need of an excellent 8.10 to overtake Ohhara and delivered on his final attempt, acquiring an 8.50. Unfortunately, Lawler couldn't find the same fortune in the Final.
"I'm a bit bummed I missed out on a win in this event, but it's still a good feeling to get some points with my ranking at this mid-point of the year," Lawler said. "It was a bit hard to find a good one in that Final heat with the higher tide and shifting a peak as it got less consistent. It felt really good to win that Semifinal after I've been on the other end of those exchanges every time it feels like. I'm ready to join the QS 6,000 and QS 10,000-level events in the back-half of the season so I'm really excited to give it a go."
Local Heroes Fall in Semifinals
The first Semifinal heat matched up one of Japan's most recognized surfers, Ohhara, and the eventual runner-up Lawler.
Ohhara grew up in Ichinomiya, Chiba, Japan, and responded well to the conditions on offer. The Japanese contender had two solid scores under his belt, a 6.85 and 6.25 that kept him in the lead, but it was his big air at the end of the heat and earned a 7.50 points. He increased Lawler's requirement up to a 8.10 and seemed as though he may hold on, but it wasn't to be.
"There was a bit of a luck factor toward the end for Jordan this time, but I can take away some positives from that heat knowing I was doing well to win that one," Ohhara said. "However, it was still a challenge for how tired I was in the battle and how to use priority. I want to make use of it in the next event. I'll adjust my game plan for the US Open later this month and give my best."
Hiroto Arai was one of the favorites to win this event with his knowledge of the wave and explosive style of surfing in fun conditions. But, Arai faced a similar fate as his fellow countrymen Ohhara, and also faced defeat in the Semifinals to eventual winner Azuchi -- despite Arai's signature air game that nearly provided the comeback needed.
"I've been surfing on this Kugenuma Coast since I was a little kid, and there was familiarity with the wave here," Arai said. "Although the conditions were really fun, I'm continuing to get tough loses this season. I think that I finally became a fighter for the second half of the season by finding a result here. I want to qualify for the CT and really need to improve my ranking for a shot at that this year, so I need to perform really well at the next big event."