When it comes down to the Vans Pro Virginia Beach, VA QS 3,000 and Vans Pro Junior, event organizers and surfers alike must be ready to go at the drop of a dime to take advantage of any swell coming into 1st Street Jetty. Opening day witnessed just that as the Pro Juniors got their event underway in one-to-two foot surf and powered through Round 1 with impressive performances in challenging conditions. The Men's QS 3,000 was called off for the day.
A few near-scares for some of the event's higher seeds provided plenty of drama with multiple buzzer-beaters throughout the morning before competition went on hold until later in the afternoon to close out the remaining three heats.
Levi Slawson Tilts The Scale
One of San Diego, California's, next crop of strong competitors released a dynamic Round 1 Heat 2 debut as Levi Slawson found the day's best two waves to garner an immaculate 16.53 (out of a possible 20) -- accruing two excellent, meaning 8.00 (out of a possible 10) or higher, scores. Slawson, 16, continues to find his footing in the WSL competitive scene with explosive showings at last year's Florida Pro QS 1,500 and RVCA Pro Junior. Now he looks to breakthrough toward his first Quarterfinals appearance after advancing to Round 2.
"I feel like I got a little lucky out there with those two waves coming to me, but I've had a lot of small-wave training at home with the lack of swell so I felt ready for this one," Slawson said. "It's good to be here after traveling for about six days coming the Mentawais but I came prepared with the epoxy boards here. It always feels good to get a heat win when it's tough like that so I'm stoked and ready for the next one now."
Defending Event Winner Survives Early Scare
Round 1 got underway with a hefty affair that included defending event winner Cole Alves, Virginia Beach's own Blayr Barton, Brasil's Daniel Templar, and Floridian Ben Wingate. Alves found himself in a scary position heading into the final minutes with Barton putting his local knowledge to use and Templar holding the runner-up spot, but the Kauai, Hawaii, native held firm to lock in a 6.67 (out of a possible 10) and 7.50 to shutdown the heat with a win.
"That was a real nail-biter after I actually woke up late and had to rush down here to get a few waves in before the heat started (laughs)," Alves said. "Knowing I can pull off a last-minute win like that is really good for my confidence but it's a situation I don't want to be in again. This is the first time I've come into an event as defending champ so I wasn't too sure what to feel. It's great to be back here with the good vibes all around and looking forward to having a good week."
JoJo Whelan Continues To Find Success Amid Experience
The event went on hold following Round 1 Heat 5 and once action resumed Newport Beach, California's, Jojo Whelan took advantage of the improved conditions. Whelan's quick start led to an eventual 7.00 to command the lead with Caleb Rapson and Brodi Sale battling for the runner-up spot until the final horn. The 16-year-old joins Slawson in finding his competitive footing but continues to impress in the Pro Juniors after his debut last season.
"I did the US Open but before that I broke my leg and was out for three months which was really rough but I'm stoked to come back with an improved mentality knowing I want to be in these events," Whelan said. "I've found you just learn as you go and adjust your strategy to what's happening in the heat. The more experience you get you start to realize more options and just what to do even more."
Also locking in early wins, Japan's Miyu Furukawa led the out-of-region contenders alongside Brasil's Eduardo Motta and Hawaii representatives Alves and Robert Grilho. But Caleb Crozier and Sam Reidy held their own well for a Round 1 victory to move into Round 2 with some confidence.
Event organizers will reconvene at 7:00am EDT to determine a possible 7:30am EDT start for either Round 1 of the Vans Pro Virginia Beach, VA QS 3,000 or Round 2 of the Vans Pro Junior.