"This is the best swell I've ever seen in Japan," seemed to be a reoccurring statement during proceedings at the Gotcha Ichinomiya Chiba Open with pumping surf providing a full day's worth of action. And, for those competitors who have come to Chiba's shores the previous years, it would be an accurate one as surfers come prepared to grovel.
But, the top-seeded men who hadn't put the jersey on were treated to a array of opportunity from barrels to massive airs and those who came equipped with a full arsenal to deliver that variety thrived.
Nat Young Leads American Crew Charge
A full list of former CT elite are on hand and Nat Young's debut performance was nothing short of superb. The Santa Cruz, California, native found the day's first proper barrel to accrue a 7.83 after already posting an excellent 8.00 before finding more excellence in Round 3 for his second heat win of the day. Young's fresh off a win in Portugal, but it's more than just results for the Californian who is in good company with a stacked crew under one roof.
"I feel really good honestly, and I don't just mean getting results, but mentally I'm in a good place," Young said. "I'm enjoying myself, I'm enjoying competing a lot and just having fun. I'm here with some good friends Evan [Geiselman], Cam Richards, Michael Dunphy, and Ian [Crane]. We're staying at a cool place with great people and all the boys are through so it was a good day."
But upsets were scattered among the elite and Alex Ribeiro fell victim to recent Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach wildcard Jacob Willcox after Ribeiro made a massive statement to start his Ichinomiya Chiba Open campaign -- notching a 9.00 and 16.50 heat total in his debut. Also eliminated; Ian Gouveia fell in Round 2 as Keanu Asing and Patrick Gudauskas bowed out in Round 3.
Aside from a few Round 2 and early Round 3 upsets, nearly all of the former CT competitors including Matt Banting, Ethan Ewing, Frederico Morais, Michael February, Connor O'Leary, and Dion Atkinson all remain in the draw after showcasing their dominance.
Hometown Heroes Deliver Big 1-2 Finish For Local Crowd
The Hiroto duo, Ohhara and Arai, gave the hometown crowd something to cheer about with Ohhara securing an impressive heat win after garnering a 15.93 heat total. While Ohhara comes in an event favorite, it was Arai who finished with a Quarterfinal in 2017 -- the best result by a Japanese competitor since 2017. However, a brilliant debut showing for Ohhara and upset finish for Arai, eliminating higher-seeded competitor Maxime Huscenot in the dying seconds.
"I was kind of nervous on that first one, especially here with all the local support on the beach which was really cool, and I was just looking for a six point wave or better to start," Ohhara said. "After the eight, and watching heats all day, I knew that a 12-point heat total would be a good number. It put me in a good position.
QS Elite Up The Anty In Primetime Showdowns
Oahu, Hawaii's, own Barron Mamiya couldn't resist the air sections that presented themselves and soared above his own standard set yesterday to earn an 8.60 for the one, massive full rotation. The 19-year-old felt inspiration from one of his fellow island natives and added plenty of fuel to the fire for Mamiya's hunger to join the CT -- showing he has the talent after overcoming former CT surfer Gudauskas, former WSL Junior Champ Vasco Ribeiro, and Tanner Hendrickson.
"I wanted to try and get some good turns in to put a few waves together, but kept finding the ones with airs (laughs)," Mamiya said. "Seth [Moniz] did super will and him qualifying has definitely given me a lot of motivation and I want to get on there with him competing against the best in the world."
Earlier in the day, former event runner-up Cooper Chapman took on a beastly match-up against Wessley Dantas, and aerial assassins Eithan Osborne and Kevin Schulz. The heat lived up to expectations as fireworks ensured with powerful rail surfing and throwing caution to the wind, something Osborne is accustom to for a big heat win.
"That felt good after the first round was pretty sketchy but it was worth it and I'm stoked to finally get a heat win," Osborne said. "I don't normally do many alley-oops but this wind is so good, the board just sticks to your feet. I love straight airs and they're really technical which I think scores well, it's better than an air-reverse to me."
Click Here For Ichinomiya Chiba Open Men's Round 2 Heats 9 - 24 and 3 Heats 1-6 Results
A 6:30 a.m. JST call will determine the start to Round 3 Heat 7 or women's Round 2.
The Ichinomiya Chiba Open will run at Tsurigasaki Beach, Ichinomiya, Japan, from April 29 - May 5 and be broadcast live throughout the event window