The World Surf League (WSL) Men's Qualifying Series (QS) Vans Pro QS 3,000 and Vans Pro Junior crowned Hiroto Ohhara and Cole Alves event champions, respectively. A slight increase in swell helped provide a finals day packed with explosive surfing from the two event champions in one-to-three foot windswell.
This marks Alves' first-ever WSL victory, making it back-to-back Hawaii wins in the North America region after Barron Mamiya's Vans US Open win.
The Maui, Hawaii, native earned his maiden WSL chair-up the beach after an insatiable comeback over Gunter, Nick Marshall, and the sole East Coast representative Bo Raynor. Heading into the dying minutes, Alves was in need of a 5.74 (out of a possible 10) and the Atlantic Ocean came to his aid when needed most. The 17-year-old was given a golden opportunity and he didn't let it go to waste, opening up with a solid air-reverse that he was able to spin out of before laying into multiple, forehand power turns to earn a near-perfect 9.17.
The score left Gunter in need of a 9.50 with just over two minutes remaining, putting Marshall and Raynor into a combination situation requiring two new scores. Despite not earning points out of region, Alves garnered some points by making it to Round 4 of the Men's QS event and now heads south to North Carolina with renewed vigor.
"I'm so stoked to represent for Hawaii again after some of the guys have won this one," Alves. "I feel like this is my breakthrough event after never really doing well in any contests. To make a few heats in the Men's QS then to win this, I'm speechless. That wave came out of nowhere and I knew I only needed a 5-point score, but I wanted to push it because I could've left the door open for a guy like Tyler (Gunter) who's been on fire. Now I'll go to the Outer Banks for that QS 1,000 and I feel like I've built a lot of confidence in my surfing this week heading there."
Gunter's Inspiring Campaign in Virginia Beach
While Alves stole the win, eventual runner-up Gunter's performance will not be forgotten. The Newport Beach, California, native came out of the gates firing with a Men's QS Quarterfinal win and carried that right into a Pro Junior Semifinal win. This feat was accomplished by Samuel Pupo, finishing fourth in both events, in 2016 and the two find themselves in rare company together.
After losing North America No. 1 Crosby Colapinto, No. 2 Eithan Osborne, and No. 3 Kade Matson early on, there was a lot of potential for Gunter to move up and now finds himself at the top of the North America Rankings heading into the RVCA Pro Junior.
"That was such a crazy day and to make two Finals is just unreal, especially in a QS 3,000," Gunter said. "I was just stoked to be in the Quarters for the QS and after I won that heat, made it through to the Pro Junior Final so I really wanted to make that QS Semifinal. I woke up this morning feeling really good and I actually wasn't too nervous, when I usually am, but that was awesome. After losing in the first Round of the US Open Pro Junior, I was bummed and just wanted to give this one everything I had."
"It feels so good and, not in a mean way, but everyone in front of me got bad results and I was able to capitalize," Gunter said. "I've got two second-place finishes and a fifth to hold onto which is really reassuring. I'm just excited to be making my goals of getting back to Worlds happen so I'll have to keep this going."
Marshall and Raynor Make Their Move
This marks Encinitas, California, surfer Marshall's first-ever Final and has plenty of steam moving forward after a third-place finish here in Virginia Beach. The 17-year-old is always a threat to the field on hand with his light-footed approach and ability in freesurf sessions, but was finally able to put it all together at a contest. Marshall's result puts him at a tie for No. 8 with Jett Schilling and the opportunity to strengthen his seed even more before the year's done.
"I'm super stoked to make my first Final and it's cool to actually go all the way," Marshall said. "I've made Quarters before, but never got past that wall so it's a great feeling. A big factor I learned was focusing in on the waves and trying to pick the best ones, and then perform on them. I had a couple buzzer-beaters in this event so it was good to be able to keep that focus and remain calm until waiting for that wave toward the end."
But, for North Carolina's Raynor, the ramifications of his fourth-place result put him just above 100 points behind Matson for a chance at moving into the Top 4 in Newport Beach September 21-23. It's been hit or miss for Raynor this season, making a Final to start the year before a tough, early exit in Los Cabos. But, a Semifinal at the Vans US Open put him back on track and now the 18-year-old's goal of a World Junior Championship appearance are within his grasp.
"That was an important result even though it would've been better to get a few places higher for a few more points," Raynor said. "It helps that Alves' won since he's not in the region so no one really pulled away in this one. I've got a few results stacking now and it felt great to be back in the Final, but I have to finish up the year strong. This year I finally found a little bit of consistency. I was stoked to make my first Final, but now that I've gotten two fourths I really want a win under my belt. It's good though, it keeps you hungry for more so hopefully I can keep it going and end up at Worlds."