One of the world's premier reefbreaks showed more glimpses of its tenacity, yet fickle tendencies in finals day of the Thomo QS in Memory of Bill Thomson and women's Live Like Zander Junior Pro. But, Chauncey Robinson and Tiare Thompson rose to the occasion and claimed maiden WSL victories, respectively, among some of the top event threats.
Three Times the Charm for Chauncey Robinson
It marked a long-awaited WSL win for Robinson after finishing runner-up here last year and earning three QS Final appearances so far in his career before tasting victory. The Melbourne Beach, Florida, native took on fellow East Coast competitor Stevie Pittman and unleashed a near-perfect 9.43 (out of a possible 10) right away before later finding another Soup Bowl righthand gem to finish with an excellent 8.00 - accruing a 17.43 (out of a possible 20) heat total.
Robinson, 19, was on cloud nine coming out of the water to his maiden chair-up at one of his favorite places in the world.
"It's pure bliss to win this event after getting runner-up last year and third time's the charm," Robinson said. "Even if it was a bigger event, I don't think anything would compare to this feeling of winning here and there's nothing more you could ask for. Zander (Venezia) sent me some waves in that Final. Everything that happened in that Final was because of him and can't say thank you enough. You don't want to give Stevie (Pittman) an inch and he's one of my best friends, we traveled here together last year, but if anyone's able to break out of combination it's him."
Robinson had no easy task to earn a Finals appearance, taking on two of Soup Bowl's own including Josh Burke in the Semifinals after a Quarterfinal battle with Che Allan for a rematch from last year's Final. It was a dream finish for the Floridian as he prepares for a full year on the QS with a seed into the QS 6,000s right away.
"I'm so excited to be into the first events at Australia to start the year after I came close to winning the Mereweather trials this season," Robinson said. "That place suits my style of surfing and it'd be insane to give the QS a full go since I'm bumped up into No. 107 now. That's the goal is to get into the primes."
Pittman's Brilliant Charge Toward Runner-Up: "I'll Get A Win One Day."
This marks Pittman's second QS runner-up performance after decimating Barbados local support's hopes of having one of their own in the Final after eliminating Dane Mackie in the Quarterfinals while -- earning the event's best single-wave score yet of a 9.83. The North Carolina native also had to overcome an in-form Eithan Osborne, who also remains in the Live Like Zander Junior Pro draw, but couldn't be stopped. Pittman, 18, didn't take on a big year of competing, but made his mark to finish the 2018 North America season.
"I'll get an event one day and I'm just happy with my performance this week over my result," Pittman said. "I'm stoked for Chauncey knowing he got runner-up last year and he deserved it. It's great to make another Final and I'm still surfing in the Semifinals for the Pro Junior -- I just need to stay on my feet. I wasn't really too focused on the QS this year so to finish with some fun waves and good scores feels great."
Tiare Thompson Breaks Through With First-Ever WSL Win
Just before Robinson's incredible finish, Thompson earned her maiden WSL victory in dramatic fashion against No. 2 ranked Samantha Sibley, an in-form Ava McGowan, and Serena Nava. McGowan stole the lead from Sibley, forcing Thompson to third midway through the heat, but Thompson was able to reclaim first-place -- earning a 7.00 - heading into the final minutes.
However, it wasn't done yet as McGowan answered back one last time with a near-excellent 7.83 just under two minutes and Thompson was gifted one last opportunity which she capitalized on brilliantly.
"It's just amazing and it feels so good to get the job done," Thompson said. "To know I can win every heat and then take out a competition just helps my confidence so much moving forward. I was a little worried when Ava (McGowan) got that score with only a few minutes left, but after starting with nothing I just reminded myself to stay calm. Last year Samantha (Sibley) beat me in the Semifinals here so it also felt good to get a little revenge (laughs)."
Now, Thompson prepares for her last year as Pro Junior after going flawless at this event with a similar spark to 2018 North America Pro Junior Champ Kirra Pinkerton - who also claimed her first-ever WSL win at this event last year before going on a tear this season.
Newcomer McGowan Shakes Up Final Proceedings
Thirteen-year-old McGowan made a remarkable run throughout this event, only her second-ever WSL contest, for a first-time Soup Bowl competitor. The New Smyrna Beach, Florida, native nearly made a triumphant feat of claiming her maiden victory until the dying seconds and out of reach. But, the newcomer showed a bit of her potential and a bright future looks to be in store.
"That was pretty fun and I knew I could get the score, then I got it, and can't believe it came down to the last seconds," McGowan said. "It's amazing to make a Final my first time here and I couldn't be happier. Tiare (Thompson) was ripping and the other girls were surfing really well so I knew it'd be tough, but I'm excited with this event."
Before all the finals day drama ensued, a definitive day of surfing ensued for the men's Live Like Zander Junior Pro Quarterfinal bouts. World Junior Championship selections are still on the line and each of the top 3 contenders are into the Semifinals.
Everything Left to Surf For in Men's Pro Junior
Alan Cleland started action off with a big Quarterfinal Heat 1 win despite a bothersome knee injury along with Jett Schilling advancing, but it was a stacked Quarterfinal Heat 2 that held all the consequence.
Current No. 6, and defending event winner, Cole Houshmand came out firing right when the horn sounded and posted a 9.77 on his backhand. Houshmand had to face his fellow Top 4 contender, No. 5 Eithan Osborne, along with 2018 North America Pro Junior Champ Tyler Gunter and an in-form Tommy Coleman. In the end, Osborne got the job done behind heat winner Houshmand and both are into a vital Semifinal.
"That was probably one of the most insane Pro Junior heats I've ever had," Houshmand said. "This is the competition where it matters most for me and I knew I'd have to lay it all on the line. I wasn't really positioned for that wave and I knew I'd have to just go top-to-bottom on it, but it took the pressure off a lot. It's so important to stay in the moment and not get caught up in the points, but I love that side of things knowing what I need or what they need so it'll be a fun finish tomorrow."
Bo Raynor's clutch surfing earned him an excellent 8.50 after shaking nerves off at the start of his affair knowing what was at stake and is into the Semifinals where he'll face current No. 2 Crosby Colapinto and No. 3 Kade Matson after a last-second runner-up finish.
The women's Live Like Zander Junior Pro awards ceremony will be held alongside the men's Sunday afternoon.
A 7:30 a.m. AST call will determine a possible 8:00 a.m. AST start to men's Semifinal action.