The end draws near for the Gotcha Ichinomiya Chiba Open and just 16 men remain to vie for 6,000 points up for grabs after a decisive day of competition. A passing storm nearly looked to halt competition toward the conclusion of Round 4, but the sun found its way back out to finish a full day of action with womens Round 2.
Nearly all of the former Championship Tour (CT) competitors in attendance were eliminated by the hungry Qualifying Series (QS) elite when the final horn of men's Round 4 sounded.
Japanese Trio Remains to Bring Event Title Home
A clash of event threats met in Round 4 Heat 7 featuring hometown hero Hiroto Ohhara facing Round 3 standouts from earlier in the day Chris Zaffis and Jake Marshall. Ohhara found his way to a big heat win over as the skies opened up once more and downpours returned as the three competitors battled for the top two spots. Ohhara is joined by fellow countrymen Reo Inaba and Sasuke Kawatani. It would mark the first Japanese competitor to win this event if one of them were to succeed. "I was really focused on my heat so the rain didn't bother me too much but I saw all the crowd running to get under the tents and thought oh no, everybody is leaving (laughs)," Ohhara said. "This year I'm having more fun and the pressures aren't getting to me like they would before. Even though, especially at this event with everyone here watching and supporting me, I thought that I would get more nervous but with the waves pumping I'm really enjoying myself."
Barron Mamiya Continues To Surge
The Hawaiian islands are well represented with the likes of Imaikalani deVault and Tanner Hendrickson earning clutch victories alongside an in-form Barron Mamiya. Hendrickson's final wave catapulted him from third to first in Round 4 over recent Bells Beach standout Jacob Willcox immediately following Mamiya's impeccable performance -- turning in another Round best heat total, this time a 14.83. "It's kind of dumping out there but there's a few sections to make it fun," Mamiya said. "I'm really trying to qualify this year and I've been putting a lot of hardwork into it. Last year was my first real year on the QS and so hopefully I can make it happen this year. I'm working with Sean Ward and he's been a great help, always "
East and West Coast Duos of North America Deliver
Both coasts of the United States boast a pair of surfers, but it was East Coast talents Cam Richards and 2016 Ichinomiya Chiba Open winner Evan Geiselman that powered through with Round 4 heat wins. Geiselman's comfort level in the Chiba lineup showed with a clutch, last-second win in Round 3 and carrying that steam into Round 4, throwing himself into the first wave of his Round 4 heat. The 25-year-old now looks to regain his event title and knows what it takes. "That's the risk of doing a maneuver like that on the first wave, you can get rewarded for it though," Geiselman said. "It probably isn't the wave you wait for with first priority but I was feeling confident enough to go for it. I've felt really good all year and just haven't had the opportunity in heats. I'm really looking forward to two-man heats now, it becomes a chess match and who's doing the better surfing."
"Last year was meant to be my first full year but I ended up tearing my ACL in the first month of competing," Richards said. "Hopefully this is my first full year and I think that it may help me mentally being in these bigger events to start the year off -- it's a weight off my shoulders. There's not a better feeling than winning a heat - cheesy as it sounds - because it can be a warzone out there." Joining the United States charge, Californians Nat Young and Marshall powered through their Round 4 battles after dominant displays in Round 3.
Australian Pack Into Round 5
Reef Heazlewood led the Aussie front with his 2019 momentum gaining steam with every heat. The aerial specialist continues to showcase his innovative style and matches it with impressive rail work. Heazlewood is joined by compatriots Liam O'Brien, Caleb Tancred, and former CT competitor Connor O'Leary.
"Getting a taste for the CT, getting some good scores and some good results has given me a lot of confidence to come back and smash the QS," Heazlewood said. "More than I what I have before. I'm really psyched for the QS this year and feel like I've got a good chance to qualify."
A 6:30 a.m. JST call will determine the start to Round 3 Heat 7 or women's Round 2.