Style, steeze, and poise took center stage at Domes Beach, Puerto Rico, for opening day of the Rincon 50 Surf Fest with a dose of progressive maneuvers thrown in to mix things up.
Now, the opening jitters are out and surfers prepare to continue their charge for a spot in the upcoming World Longboard Championships at Jinzung Harbor, Taiwan. Both men and women's Round 1 affairs were completed before the island's ill-tempered tropical storms began with increased south winds ending competition for the day.
Early Stirrings in PR
Huntington Beach, California's, Dakota Faircloth started off the day with a big win over 2x World Champion Piccolo Clemente, also advancing, in Round 1 Heat 1. It was a slow start to competition, but Faircloth was able to find waves that gave him opportunities for showing quick walks to the nose before having to shuffle back and save his rides. The Californian hasn't competed in a WSL Longboard event and now looks to break through.
"Getting the first round out of the way was a big weight off the shoulders after traveling all the way here," Faircloth said. "I haven't done this caliber of contest in a long time and surfing with world-class guys like Piccolo was great to know I could get a heat win over him. It's a big confidence boost. The hospitality from the local crew is amazing and the surfing they've doing in the freesurfs is great to see. It's also a lot of my friends here at the event so I feel comfortable and right at home."
Puerto Ricans Stumble on Opening Day, Save One
It also began a chain-reaction for the Puerto Rican's that witnessed all their countrymen eliminated -- except for 14-year-old Zahid Marrero. The local competitor was ecstatic finding out he won the heat over Peruvian Jorge Vilchhez, also advancing, alongside Jeremy Guilmette and fellow Puerto Rican Luis Guzman. But, it's all fun for the young talent as he embraces the moment at hand.
"That was awesome and I honestly just went in there to have fun with no real strategy which helped keep the nerves down," Marrero said. "I was a little nervous knowing how good they are, but the waves are really fun right now and it's great to see this event happening. I was able to get into this event last minute and I love the opportunity to compete around home. Everyone was just saying you have to do it and maybe I'll make a heat, but then I came out hearing 'you got first-place' and I couldn't believe it."
Tony Silvagni laid down the men's highest heat total of 14.25 (out of a possible 20), matching the top single-wave score of a 7.50 (out of a possible 10), but a surprise performance from Japanese competitor Kai Hamase, who is joined by countrymen Kenji Gonnokami, nearly surpassed Silvagni with a 14.05 of his own. The Kanagawa, Japan, native came here with one goal in mind outside of his region and start building momentum toward 2019.
"It's a nice wave here and I just wanted to get a few good ones for a chance at scores, but it was tricky to find the right one," Hamase said. "It's my first time here and I just want to win this event. I've done a few events, but haven't gotten a really good result so to get a win here would mean a lot. There's a lot of good surfers and this place is great so I'm happy to keep going, hopefully do even better in the next round."
Women Debut Brilliantly, Newcomers Flourish Alongside Veterans
The women took on tough, higher tide conditions as the increased south winds made reading the wave more difficult, but still provided moments of brilliance to determine Quarterfinalists.
Current World Longboard Championship competitor Kaitlin Mikkelsen is looking to back herself up here in Puerto Rico before moving into Taiwan and did just that with a clutch Round 1 win. But, she will have the likes of 15-year-old talents Brooke Carlson and Avalon Gall to deal with -- both of who whom earned Round 1 victories.
It marks both young competitor's first trip to Puerto Rico and maiden WSL event as they move into Round 2 and Gall started off with a solid 7.10 in her score line. The San Clemente, California, native has grown up surfing among the town's World Champions and now hopes to join the elite soon.
"It's really good to get through that heat even though the waves got tough, but I still had fun with a few of my friends out there," Gall said. "At the beginning I wanted to stay busy and get a few, then wait for the sets even though you end up just figuring it out when you're in the water. I see Rachael (Tilly ) and Tory (Gilkerson) out there a lot, and they're always happy so I just try to bring that kind of positivity into my heats."
Maria Fernanda Reyes Shuts Competition Down
But, Peruvian Maria Fernanda Reyes came out looking like the surfer to beat and garnered a brilliant 14.75, posting the event's highest heat total and single-wave score, a 7.75 (out of a possible 10), in her debut. The former World Longboard Championship competitor is on hand to prepare for a big 2019.
"I was a late entry for this one with our crew coming up last-minute so I'm glad to get into it and keep the jersey on," Reyes said. "It feels great to compete against this level of competition and get ready for next year. We're preparing for the ISA Pan American Games and I really want to get to back to the World Longboard Championships so this is a great stepping stone toward that."
An 8:00 a.m. AST call will determine a possible 8:30 a.m. AST start for men's Round 2 or women's Quarterfinal action.