Avalanches of water poured into Sunset Beach with a pulse in swell that rose to 12-to-15 foot Hawaiian (equivalent to 20 foot, plus wave faces) and provided a spectacle all its own. Top seeds made their debuts and some of Hawaii's finest came out firing on all cylinders to lead the way toward finals day.
Dusty Payne: The Next Chapter Begins
One of Maui, Hawaii's, top-tier competitors Payne came out firing in Round 3 Heat 3 to the tune of a near-perfect 9.00 (out of a possible 10). Payne backed it up with 7.60 to turn the day's top performance of a 16.60 (out of a possible 20), not even aware of his near-perfection, and starts 2019 with a bang alongside Kaito Kino who helped eliminate Sunset's own Mason Ho.
"If you got anything out there you were happy, it was a bit of survival trying to pick the right ones," Payne said. "I have an idea of what a good wave is, it's just about trying to get yourself in that position and get a good score. Mason (Ho) was in that heat, and he's probably the most experienced guy out there, and even he had a hard time getting two decent waves with so much water moving. Any experience helps on a day like today."
"It feels good to turn the page on 2018 -- that was probably the hardest year of my life," Payne continued. "Had that time throughout November and December to start surfing again, get comfortable surfing, and hopefully this year I can keep building."
Also facing early upsets alongside Ho, top-seeded competitors including 2018 Billabong Pipe Masters wildcard Benji Brand, 2017 World Junior Champion Finn McGill, and Koa Rothman, among others, were eliminated.
Maui Boys Takeover Sunset
Fellow Maui natives Imaikalani deVault, Ian Gentil, Cody Young and defending Sunset Open champion Billy Kemper continued Payne's success with impressive performances of their own. All three dropped excellent scores and formidable heat totals, Gentil's 16.00 besting the island's talent on hand. It's been a long road for Gentil, who enters this year ranked at No. 201, back to competition but he made his goal of entering the Triple Crown last year a reality and now has ambitions even higher.
"It feels good to start the year off like that after having so many close in the Triple Crown and HIC so now I'm thinking I either want three's or get eights," Gentil said. "I don't want to be gettings every heat. That was one of the first times I've set a goal in surfing was to make the Triple Crown, and to complete it now I want to make the Tour now (laughs). But, that's what I want and there's the Top 100 fighting for it, and I want to be right there."
Kemper's mesmerizing win at the Jaws Challenge was hard to forget as he comes into this year's event and got his campaign started right away with an excellent 8.33. Though he didn't find himself in another picturesque barrel this time around, his powerful forehand laid into the Sunset walls on offer.
"Can't really complain when sunset is 10-to-12 feet and it's basically as good as it gets," Kemper said. "I was the first guy out there in the lineup this morning and I knew it was going to be a good day. This event, these lower-rated ones, always seem to get big pumping waves and I love competing here [because] it's not really competing against other competitors but more so against Mother Nature. Sunset Beach is one of the hardest waves to be consistent at. I started off with an 8.33 and didn't back it up until eight minutes left, but that's just Sunset."
Barron Mamiya Holds It Down
But, 18-year-old and one of Oahu's own Mamiya represented well for his home island with an excellent 16.10 heat total to begin his 2019 season as a full-time QS competitor. Mamiya got a good taste of what it takes to surf against the world's best at last year's Corona Protected Bali Pro and finishing No. 36 on the rankings to set himself up for a big year.
"Going into that heat my board was feeling a little weird, it was a little small, but once I switched everything went well," Mamiya said. "The juniors are done for me and now it's time to start looking for a shot to qualify, that's about all I can do now (laughs). Last year was the first year I put in time toward the QS and I learned so much. I took a lot of losses, but also got some results and going into this year I feel like I know more of what's going so I'm stoked to see what happens."
Former Sunset Champ Comes Out Swinging
Alongside some of Hawaii's top QS threats, one of the heavy-hitting internationals putting on a Sunset clinic was 2017 Sunset Open winner Jack Robinson. The Australian finished off 2018 at No. 34 on the QS rankings and is set for another full go with a brilliant start to his year.
"It's good to get the season restarted here when it's going off like this and it's a great way to get the jersey back on before Pipe," Robinson said. "I surf waves like this back home all the time and I'm pretty used to it. I just love the waves around here from Sunset down to Haleiwa, it's just a good stretch of waves. To only miss out on qualifying by a few heats last yea, I was so bummed -- but it's alright we'll get there."
The Sunset Open/Pro Junior is presented by the Hawaii Youth Surfing Development Organization (HYSDO), a 501c3 nonprofit providing greater opportunities for local youth in and around surfing. Full results and heats scores are available at worldsurfleague.com and on the free WSL app.
Community partners (including WSL) are currently undertaking long-term erosion mitigation efforts at Sunset Beach. The public is encouraged to be mindful of limited parking, carpool or choose public transportation where possible, and use designated beach access points when on-site to protect the new sand dunes.