Three-time Jaws Challenge winner and WSL Big Wave World Champion Billy Kemper jumped from a massive victory on Maui to another strong result at the Vans World Cup and garnered yet another standout performance at Sunset Beach. During Day 1 of competition, Kemper scored the first perfect 10 of the 2018 Vans Triple Crown of Surfing and took that momentum to Maui, where he dropped into 50-foot waves at Pe‘ahi to ultimately win his third event title.
"Leaving here with a 10 my first heat back on the North Shore after an injury, it was a huge confidence boost," Kemper said after today's heat win. "I felt like I just carried that momentum straight in and caught a couple waves at Jaws that will stick with me the rest of my life and ended up winning. And I'm right back here with the same mentality and same goal -- just take it heat by heat and just keep chipping away."
Today, Kemper advanced in first out of an intense Heat 9, which saw Vasco Ribeiro progress while Jake Marshall and Benji Brand suffered disappointing losses. In the final minute of the heat, all four surfers jumped on one last wave to shake up the standings and leave fans in anticipation of scores. Marshall needed a 5.88 to move into Round 3, however judges scored his final ride just shy, a 5.50, after he came unstuck on his ending maneuver. Kemper's best wave of the heat, a 6.40, earned him a strong lead after backing it up with a 4.77.
"This is day four of competition for me and it feels great," Kemper continued. "I think when you put your mind to something and you put in a bunch of work, this is the test. It's all working, it's all come together. I'm just really enjoying it and having fun. I've got my kids, my wife down here, my friends, family, and it's fun, it's been an emotional rollercoaster."
Rivaling Kemper's perfect 10-point ride was Hawaiian Josh Moniz's barrel of the day during Heat 13, an impressive 9.83 for a late drop into a heaving 12ft. wave. Moniz pushed through the barrel as it closed, then continued with a gouge on the open face and power carve in the pocket to complete the ride successfully. His earlier score of a 6.33 meant he had a commanding lead and his 16.16 combined two-wave total tallied among the top in the event thus far.
"Before I paddled out, the wind shot so offshore (the waves) are actually barreling off the top which is super rare," said Moniz. "The first set that swung under us had a super good look to it and I was like, ‘Oh the next one might throw.' It came up and it had a perfect little double up to it. I just slowed my paddle down because I knew I'd get into. Just pulled in and came out."
Moniz's younger brother, Seth, just qualified for the 2019 CT after a Semifinal finish at the first event of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing (VTCS), the Hawaiian Pro, and now Josh is on his way to improving his QS standings as well.
One of the best backhand performances of the day came from stoke-saturated surfer Tanner Gudauskas in Heat 10 for controlled turns, dynamic maneuvers and a bid into Round 3. He went against Brazil's Caio Ibelli, who advanced in second, and Sunset notables Shayden Pacarro from Oahu and Imaikalani deVault of Maui.
"It is so perfect when you're watching it, (but) it's actually hard to get a game plan going because you just assume that it will be constant waves and it will all be fun," said Gudauskas. "But I thought I'd sit a little bit wide and try and get off the edge of it and try and get a couple hits that way. I started sitting with priority for a long time and I started feeling the monkey on my back. Those guys are all really good... Close finish, but when I saw that last one come in I was so excited."
Gudauskas looked comfortable to earn an 8.23 and 7.67 with in-form surfing and will compete again in Round 3 Heat 10 after his brother Patrick Guduaskas (USA) opens his Vans World Cup campaign as a seeded surfer in Round 3 Heat 2.
2017 CT athlete Jack Freestone had a buzzer beater advancement into Round 3 after he dropped an excellent 8.23 - the highest score of Heat 5 - to jump into first ahead of Carlos Munoz. His two-turn combination demonstrated commitment and finesse on a solid set wave, and although Freestone rode the least number of waves during the 30-minute exchange, he made his scores count.
"It was definitely good to get a decent wave," said Freestone. "I feel like I kind of deserve one, my last few heats out here, I surfed the HIC Pro and you can just get lost so easily out there. I knew exactly what I was looking for, but sometimes Sunset doesn't even let you get a second wave so, I was just glad it came through even though it was in the last 30 seconds."
The Australian has been splitting his year between the QS and family time on Kauai with Alana Blanchard, who 24 hours prior eliminated world title contender Lakey Peterson during the final competition of the Women's 2018 CT, the Beachwaver Maui Pro, as a wildcard. By advancing into Round 3, Blanchard handed Stephanie Gilmore her seventh world title; partner Freestone gushed with pride during his post-heat interview today.
"It was cool to see her get that opportunity and mix it up with the world's best," said Freestone. "She didn't look like she skipped a beat, it looked like she'd been there (on the CT) the past 4, 5 years. It was very inspiring for me as well and we were so happy and proud of her."
Freestone currently sits in the No. 22 spot on the QS and will use this last-chance opportunity at the Vans World Cup to hopefully re qualify for the 2019 CT.
Surfline, the official forecast partner of the VTCS, is calling for the current/fading NW swell to continue to back down over the next couple of days. Thursday morning could see head high waves, however onshore winds will make for unfavorable conditions in the declining surf. A new WNW swell is expected for the weekend along with a large, long period swell from the NW toward the end of the holding window.