Day Two of the Hawaiian Pro, which initiated the 2018 Vans Triple Crown of Surfing on November 12, saw dramatic performances from an international array of athletes including Dusty Payne, who made his professional comeback two weeks ago at the HIC Pro, and Caio Ibelli, who's work today marked his return to competition after suffering a broken foot in April. The Hawaiian Pro is a WSL Men's QS 10,000 event, which will help determine the 2019 CT talent lineup along with the 36th Annual Vans Triple Crown of Surfing (VTCS) champion.
Payne had a stellar heat today at Haleiwa Ali‘i Beach Park despite a near-death surfing accident at Pipeline in January of this year. His impressive Quarterfinal finish at the HIC Pro - a WSL Men's QS 3,000 - provided a boost of confidence to tackle formidable opponents today at the Hawaiian Pro and saw him earn first place advancement into Round 3.
"I'm really just grateful to be here, get to see everybody around and high five everybody," said Payne. "I'm grateful for every day I wake up. Just to be able to compete is a blessing, I'm so grateful the WSL gave me the opportunity to do this. I'm just feeling happy to be here."
Payne took off on one of the biggest waves of Heat 14 and surfed with patience and poise, nailing three major maneuvers including a stylish tail slide at the end for a 6.83. The Maui-bred athlete is a known standout at this venue and won the Hawaiian Pro in 2014, followed by a runner-up finish at the 2014 Vans World Cup, which catapulted him up the rankings to earn a place on the 2015 CT. The ultimate comeback story, Payne's career has been a roller coaster of injury and victory.
"I feel really good overall, the healthiest I've been in a while," Payne continued. "I'm taking it day by day. I'm still improving from the injury from the start of the year, getting better and re-learning how to use my new body. There was a bit of an adjustment throughout the year, getting comfortable with a few things. I'm still working things out and that's exciting I can still improve and get better."
In Heat 6, Ibelli made a competitive revival after a foot injury at Australia's Margaret River sidelined him for seven out of ten CT events this season. He looked in-form today despite months of rehabilitation and surfed successfully out of Round 2 with a 6.87 and 6.67.
"I'm feeling great, it's been a long time," said Ibelli. "On that time off I had to do surgery, I got plenty therapy. I'm so stoked to be back and put the jersey on. I was having an emotional moment right before my heat, kind of getting ready. I didn't really know how to feel."
"Coming to Hawaii, riding bigger boards, and just surfing against all these guys who have been practicing and competing all year, I just didn't know what was going to happen," Ibelli continued. "So I prepared myself for this moment. I'm in shape and feeling good. I'm really happy to be here so I think that translates in my surfing. Maybe not on the level I was before, but I'm so happy things are working out for me."
The highest single wave score of the day (and event thus far) went to Ricardo Christie for a well-surfed set wave in Heat 7 that judges awarded an 8.93. Christie checked off speed, power and flow with a combination of maneuvers, opening the ride with a wrapping first turn and completing it with an exclamation point on the closeout section of the wave.
"(The wave) just kind of opened up and I could do like three turns," said Christie post-heat. "When I finished I was stoked because it was a solid start… I'm just trying to get the best waves I can find so I can have some fun. That's all I was thinking."
CT hopeful Leonardo Fioravanti moved one round closer to requalification after posting one of the highest two-wave totals of the event, a 16.34 out of a possible 20, in Heat 11. His final ride of the 30-minute exchange was an excellent 8.67 for a two-turn combination that shot him into first advancing position ahead of recent HIC Pro winner Kiron Jabour.
"Every wave you catch you have to also start thinking about the end bowl because usually out here you get a big first turn and the end bowl you hit it, do a down carve," said Fioravanti. "My first wave I did an alright first turn and I hit the second section and it just shot me forward and I was straight-legged and face planted. Somehow I got a 4th priority pretty good wave and got it for the heat win."
The Italian athlete is within close range of rejoining the world's elite surfers in 2019 and is counting on his performances in Hawaii to solidify this goal. No. 11 on the QS, Fioravanti earned a win at the Martinique Surf Pro, a Men's QS 3,000 in the Caribbean, and back-to-back fifth place results at the Pantin Classic Galicia Pro (QS 3,000) and the EDP Billabong Pro Ericeira (QS 10,000) earlier this year.
"This year is going to be so exciting," Fioravanti continued. "At one point I was 16th which is already enough to qualify. Last year I was a long shot away from qualifying. First victory in that first heat and I'm going to give it a good go."
The opening heat of the day saw another former CT athlete Jack Freestone breeze past competitors after nailing an excellent 8.83, the second highest single wave score of the day, for a powerful opening turn and a committed layback snap in the critical section of the wave. Currently ranked No. 16 on the QS, Freestone is also close to requalifying after spending 2018 grinding on the QS. He currently balances competition with family time in Hawaii with wife, Alana Blanchard, and their baby boy, Banx.
"I've been spending a lot of time on Kauai which has been really nice," said Freestone. "Just been getting really excited for the Triple Crown the last month or so and looking forward to the rest of the events. It feels like familiar territory because I feel like I live my life on this (QS) bubble, so I'm excited to know what happens."
A stacked Heat 3 ensued in overhead surf with North Shore athletes Finn McGill and Mason Ho taking first and second respectively for a bid into Round 3. A smoothly confident surfer, Ho fired off with a 6.17 after pulling into the morning's first barrel section, with McGill hot on his heels posting his own 6.00 on the scoreboard. McGill followed up with an excellent 8.00 after powering out a dynamic opening turn and nailing the closing maneuver. With a stable lead over Ho and remaining competitors Keanu Asing and Lucca Mesinas, McGill advanced out of his first QS 10,000 Round 2 of the year.
"I paddled out kind of nervous, just wanted to surf my best," said McGill. "I felt comfortable because I was at home and it's really good out, it ups your surfing. Honestly, it's not who's in your heat, it's kind of you versus Haleiwa. It's a tricky wave and you just have to find the wave and power through it."
The VTCS story is not complete without the legacy of the Ho family. Mason's father, Michael Ho, won the inaugural series in 1983 and again in 1985, while his uncle, Derek Ho, also earned the VTCS Champion title in 1984, 1986 and 1990. Mason himself has earned a win at the HIC Pro - the official local qualifying event for the VTCS - twice (2013 and 2016) and plays spoiler every year as he battles the world's best to earn another series title for his family and Hawaii.