Sebastian Inlet, nestled in Florida's Space Coast, played host to the 2009 O'Neill Sebastian Inlet Pro and, nearly a decade later, returned as the Florida Pro QS 1,500 earlier this year. It was a long-awaited event for the likes of East Coast competitors that had their dreams set on becoming a pro surfer as they watched Space Coast's own 11-time WSL Champion Kelly Slater, 2001 WSL Champion C.J. Hobgood, and many more compete.
Fast-forward a decade and one of those groms, Evan Geiselman, claimed his third East Coast QS title on home soil at the inlet alongside fellow Floridian Caroline Marks -- her first-ever QS win. Geiselman continues to be one of the coast's top competitors, finishing at No. 25 on the QS, and keeps pushing toward Championship Tour (CT) qualification each year.
"Anytime I get a chance to compete on the East Coast I'm looking forward to it, especially Florida with this one and Cocoa Beach being our QS events of the season," Geiselman said. "It's just nice being close to home and competing at the same time. Last year was great and a highlight was CJ (Hobgood) calling the Final for us, I thought that was pretty special to hear some of his knowledge since it got slow during that heat."
The New Smyrna Beach native knows the heartbreak of falling just shy of qualifying all to well, but remains steadfast and determined with a positive outlook on a new season ahead.
"I'm pretty rattled after Sunset, but now I've had a week to digest it and I'm ready to get back on it and do it again," Geiselman added. "Right after I lost there I'd have days just being out in the lineup and in between waves I'd have flashbacks of every single heat I surfed this year. I feel like I learned a lot more this year, but it was also a really good year and a lot to pull from it."
While the women's Championship Tour (CT) competitors will enjoy a well-deserved, elongated holiday, some of the Qualifying Series (QS) elite will get right back to business and Marks is among them. The event received near record-breaking, frigid air temperatures last year that tested even the most experienced competitors and 2018 CT Rookie of the Year Caroline Marks claimed her maiden QS victory.
It started a brilliant run for the now 16-year-old, winning the event while still 15, that included back-to-back North America QS Regional Titles and the overall OS Rankings points leader.
"I'm really excited even though it's technically kind of my off time from the Tour, I just can't wait for next year more than ever," Marks said. "That was the biggest win of my life and looking forward to hopefully go back-to-back. As soon as it was confirmed I knew it'd be an event I'm doing, it was one of my favorite events all year. I just love going home. I feel like I'll be going into super confident and just hope we get some fun waves for it."
2019 may be just as promising a lineup with former CT competitor Pauline Ado, 2019 CT Rookie Brisa Hennessy, and 2018 World Junior Champion Kirra Pinkerton ready to vie for early points. Though it's not the grandeur of 6,000 points up for grabs this time around, 3,000 points are just as valuable (a big helping factor in Hennessy's qualification) -- especially to start the season for those looking to make a surge.
This marks a notable return in major part to the Florida Space Coast Office of Tourism and their efforts to restore this opportunity. A few changes to the run of show now include bringing in the experienced likes of Darren Brillhart at the helm as Event Director alongside Matt Kechele, Gordon Lawson, and CJ Hobgood, and making it a more community-based event.
"We had so many brands and businesses that wanted to be involved last year, but did not have the cash to be a big sponsor, so we evolved and made the Florida Pro a community event," said Tiffany Minton, Florida Pro Committee Chair. "We worked with CJ Hobgood and a few others to help us get athlete- sponsored merchandise to sell at a discounted rate on ShopFloridaPro.com. Local businesses also donated experiences, such as dining and attractions gift certificates, and held Florida Pro night pop-up events where part of the proceeds go to raising the prize purse."
The Florida Pro will run January 14 - 20 at Sebastian Inlet, Florida.