The Vans Pro presented by HIC, a WSL QS 3,000 event, saw more XL surf churn through the football field-sized stadium of Sunset Beach with wave face heights continuing to push fifteen-feet. Today's conditions were considered a completely different sport than what the rest of the QS sees over the year, given the amount of physical exertion that the wave demands from athletes. Perseverance was key and most of the bright moments went hand in hand with hold downs, wipeouts and broken boards.
Athletes struggled to stay alive in the competition and earn qualification, points and prestige at one of the greatest stages in surfing as the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing season ignites. CT surfer and 2012 Vans Triple Crown Champion Sebastian Zietz came out firing in Round 3 with a 9.0 (out of a possible 10) after drawing a high line into the barrel and grabbing rail for a stylish kickout. With impeccable positioning, Zietz joined the select few who earned near-perfect scores today.
"I think blue (Jackson Butler) had priority, but he was a little deep," said Zietz. "I took off and it was a no brainer to pull right in. It actually had a little bonus section so I just hid in there as long as I could. I came out and had so much speed I wanted to do a huge cutback, but I was just going way too fast and I was on top of the water so I did a grab rail high line. Stoked on the barrel, it's pumping out there, it's all you could really ask for at Sunset."
Zietz recently returned home after the European leg of the CT and is happy to be back in Hawaii. "To be in warm water and beautiful waves and weather, close to family, it's always nice to come back," he continued. Part of an illustrious list of homegrown Hawaii Champions, Zietz's career was elevated in 2012 during the Vans Triple Crown after he won the Hawaiian Pro and placed third at the Vans World Cup to then qualify for the 2013 CT.
Zietz advanced into Round 4 along with Te Kehukehu Butler, while former event winner Danny Fuller had a shocker elimination along with Vans Pro rookie Jackson Butler. Another upset came after one of the more suspenseful heats of the day with Finn McGill, Michael O'Shaughnessy, Tristan Guilbaud and Jorgann Couzinet when a flurry of waves came in the final seconds of the heat.
McGill dropped in on a mountain of whitewater on the buzzer, executed a critical first turn then pulled in for a small barrel cover to finish strong. Couzinet also had a last-minute ride as the lineup pulsed with energy, nabbing the highest single wave score of the heat, a 6.43. Despite the good result, Couzinet, who is currently ranked No. 7 on the QS, was knocked out of the competition after McGill secured the necessary score to move into first. Sunset standout Michael O'Shaughnessy earned second with a 5.83 and 3.00.
"Buzzer beater! I somehow got that wave," said McGill. "I was just thinking ‘I had a great heat, but I wish I had one more shot' and then they said ‘20 seconds left' and I was like ‘there's not another wave coming' and then that wave popped up out of nowhere. I saw Mikey (O'Shaughnessy) and Tristan (Guilbaud) go for it and they both missed it. I turned around really late with two seconds left and I made it and there was a perfect turn section, so I just did a big turn and then I did another one and then kicked out and had so much adrenaline."
Barrels became the ultimate prize as Sunset continued to deliver a variety of scoring opportunities; former Vans Pro winner Evan Valiere left the crowd buzzing after a masterfully surfed wave on his backhand. Judges awarded an excellent 9.57 after he committed to a critical take-off and pulled in deep behind the section for a backside barrel.
"That was really exciting, there was nothing else I could really do except pull in," said Valiere. "I was just trying to be as precise as I could in my positioning and I just barely got up to my feet. Just trying to rest today to make sure I don't get stiff and keep a rhythm going. It's hard to get a rhythm going here at Sunset."
South Africa's Matthew McGillivray kicked off Round 3 Heat 5 with a near-perfect 9.33 for a huge opening maneuver and two more critical power turns on a set wave. He backed this up with a 5.83 to advance in first while Sunset Champion Billy Kemper remained close behind with a 14.73 to McGillivray's 15.16. The South African will look to better last year's result and move past the Quarterfinals to increase his No. 14 standing on the QS.
For the first time ever, CT competitor Griffin Colapinto and younger brother Crosby Colapinto competed against each other with an underdog finish that created another shocking upset. The siblings went against young gun Jett Schilling and WSL Hawaii/Tahiti Nui Regional title contender Gavin Gillette and it was the two youngest, Crosby, 18, and Schilling, 16, that advanced, respectively.
"It's the first time I've ever competed at Sunset and I knew it was going to be a super gnarly heat," said Schilling. "I was hoping for a few more waves, but it still turned out great as I caught two good ones. I hang out with the Colapinto's every day back home, so it was pretty surreal competing against both of them. I'm just so stoked to make it through!"
A San Clemente, California native, Schilling surfed well beyond his years today and earned the best wave of the heat, a 5.73 for a down-the-line backside snap followed by another strong turn. He is now onto Finals day and will surf against McGillivray, Jack Robinson (AUS) and Miguel Tudela (PER) in Round 4 Heat 3 once competition resumes.