The World Surf League (WSL) North America Qualifying Series (QS) begins its 2019 season starting Monday, January 14 - 20 for the Florida Pro Women's QS 3,000 and Men's QS 1,500 at Sebastian Inlet. This marks a valuable start for the women's QS year with 3,000 points on the line that brings in some of the top QS talents from around the world, as well as providing a jumpstart for the regional men to get their year started. A seven-day event window will allow contest organizers to put surfers in the best conditions on offer with two champions set to be crowned and will be streamed live all week through www.WorldSurfLeague.com.
Among the top QS threats in attendance, Brisa Hennessy returns to Sebastian Inlet after ending last year's campaign with a Round 5 finish. But, it was just the start of a phenomenal season for the 19-year-old, Costa Rican surfer that culminated with a spot onto this year's Championship Tour (CT). Hennessy and defending event winner, Melbourne Beach, Florida, native, Caroline Marks represent the CT at this year's event and both are looking to start 2019 off in the right direction.
"It's great to see this contest return and I thank all the sponsors and community for bringing it back," Hennessy said. "Having a break from contests I think is necessary but it's also very important to me to get back into doing what I love most. My goal is to get a solid result here to hopefully carry on some confidence and momentum for the year while relieving a little bit of stress. I feel like I learned a lot last year about the wave and getting more comfortable with beach break surfing, which is something I constantly want to improve on. Hopefully I've grown and I can bring that knowledge from last year into my heats this year."
A great initiative from the Eastern Surfing Association (ESA) is helping pave the wave for a few of its standout competitors, both in and out of the water, and putting them into the event. ESA Executive Director Michelle Sommers says they want to "work with the WSL to help create a pathway to the next level" by providing their competitors with entry into WSL events on the East Coast throughout 2019.
One of their All-Stars, Morgan Iglay made her QS debut at the 2018 WRV Outer Banks Pro and looked poised for a solid result before becoming ill. But, the Manasquan, New Jersey, native is back on the WSL platform alongside some of her ESA competitors.
"I'm excited for the event and I was already entered, but it's amazing that the ESA is helping us get into events," Iglay said. "I kind of knew what you had to do so the pathway wasn't too difficult to navigate, though if you're not involved it can pretty unclear, but it was just harder to get into the events without having points or a ranking. It's a totally different experience compared to other events and I just want to keep trying to get into more of them and give it my best."
One of the youngest surfers in the draw, and Florida's own, Ava McGowan made a big statement to finish 2018 with a runner-up result at the Live Like Zander Junior Pro in Memory of Zander Venezia. The 13-year-old earned one of the wildcard slots alongside fellow Floridian Zoe Benedetto and now looks to continue her success at the QS level in her debut.
"When I got the call that I was given one of the Event Wild Cards I was so happy," McGowan said. "I can't wait to see all of my friends from around the world and get the chance to hang with them on the beach and catch up. The best part is that I get the opportunity to surf against talented surfers that I strive to surf like. All in all, I am just really excited to surf this contest. It will also be my first time surfing an event at Sebastian Inlet."
Coinciding with the women's 2019 start, the Florida Pro Men's QS 1,500 kicks off the North America Regional Tour with some of its marquee surfers in attendance that includes defending event champion Evan Geiselman, last year's North America No. 2 Kevin Schulz and many more.
Among them, Melbourne Beach, Florida's, Chauncey Robinson looks to build upon an impressive 2018 that resulted in a No. 116 overall ranking. Robinson's win at Soup Bowl to finish off the season marked his first-ever WSL victory and now the 20-year-old has his goals set on more.
"I've watched many of the guys I look up to kickstart their surf careers at Sebastian events," Robinson said. "I'm super grateful to have a similar opportunity and I want to make the most of it before a grueling year of traveling. My goal last year was to win an event, so now that that's scratched off I want to win multiple events and do well enough in the 6,000's to be able to get into primes mid-season."
One of ESA's wildcards Blayr Barton returns to the WSL stage after an impressive debut last year in his hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia, during the Vans Pro QS 3,000. Barton took that experience into the Outer Banks with continued success, but now hopes to create a full season in 2019 at the Pro Junior level while still giving himself a shot at QS events when possible.
"It was amazing getting the opportunity to compete in the events last year and was not expecting that at all," Barton said. "It's great to see ESA giving us these opportunities. I was going to do the event, but had some things going on and then I got the ESA from wildcard. Coming into this one I think I just want to focus on competing better instead of being so nervous and be more confident. I'm really looking forward to doing all the pro juniors and start building points to start building a career."
*The Florida Pro will run January 14 - 20 at Sebastian Inlet, Florida, and be streamed live via www.WorldsSurfLeague.com.