A critical day of competition at the SLO CAL Open at Pismo Beach unfolded with both men and women putting on an absolute showcase throughout dreamy, three-to-five foot conditions all day. Winds remained minimal from start to finish and competitors relished with the event's biggest performances so far as men's Rounds 3 and 4 were wrapped up alongside breakout debut showings from the women. Both fields are now down to the remaining sixteen left standing as they head into the weekend.
Airshow Takes Center Stage in Men's Round 4 Action
Notable freesurf talent Jacob Szekely made his move in the QS jersey with a signature forehand air-reverse that garnered an excellent 8.00 (out of a possible 10) to solidify his place into Round 5. Alongside Kevin Schulz, also winning his Round 4 Heat 4 battle, Szekely spent time amongst some of the world's best at the Red Bull Airborne Series and is bringing that to his contest form in 2020.
"I'm definitely trying to get into the (Airborne) events while I'm over in Australia and also do some freesurf trips to try and get some clips," said Szekely. "It was super fun out there with a lot of good air sections. I want to shout out all my friends on the beach for coaching me in heats like Shane Borland, Tyler Gunter, Dylan Hord and a lot of the others. It's been so fun and big shout to SLO for hosting us."
A battle unfolded as the day wore on with Tyler Gunter and Jabe Swierkocki trading blows before Swierkocki took to the air for the men's highest single-wave score of an 8.27 - Gunter advancing in second-place. The Ventura, California, native started his QS campaign last season to start getting experience under his belt and now looks to throw his name in the mix more moving forward. (Interview in video)
Butler Finds Pismo Redemption
One of the closing heats in Round 4 featured a talent-stacked bout featuring former Championship Tour (CT) competitor Brett Simpson, emerging QS threat Jackson Butler, an in-form Pismo Beach native Austin Neumann and Raiki Nishida. Butler ended up getting some redemption for himself after falling to Simpson at this venue in 2018 and now looks for more.
"The waves are super, super fun right now you just have to find the right ones that have an open corner to it," said Butler. "Going up against guys like Simpo (Brett Simpson) you have to go big and find the right waves because that's what he's going to do. (Jacob) Szekely did a pretty massive air earlier so I look up to him in terms of explosive surfing. That trip to China was really fun with some good waves and (Hainan Island) is a pretty amazing place but I always love competing near home so this event was one I was looking forward to."
Impressive performances from the likes of Southern California's Kevin Schulz, Jeremy Carter, reigning North America QS Regional Champ Noah Schweizer, local event Still Frothy runner-up Sean Woods and former Pismo Beach victor Cory Arrambide all winning their Round 4 heats.
Women's Round 2 Showdown Unfolds
Fireworks ensued for Round 2 Heat 3 between Californians Makena Burke and Ashley Held as Burke opened up the affair with a near-perfect 9.50 (out of a possible 10) before Held answered back with a perfect 10. But Burke wasn't finished and as time expired the Ventura native found one last right that provided multiple opportunities to showcase her decimating backhand to finish off with the day's best 17.50 (out of a possible 20) heat total. (Interview in video above)
Excellence Ensues From Familiar Faces
Big performances from the likes of defending event winner Kirra Pinkerton (Interview in video above), 2018 event runner-up Samantha Sibley and 2016 North America QS Regional Champion Meah Collins all noted excellent heat totals in a flurry of action throughout Round 2.
For Collins and Sibley this marks a big start to 2020 as they prepare for their respective qualification campaigns, something Sibley got a taste of in 2019. While Collins hasn't found her breakthrough win on the QS just yet, the 20-year-old still continues to show her potential around the world with runner-up performances and dropping hefty scores.
"I know I can't think about this last heat too much but I know there will be opportunities regardless and I'll just focus on finding those," said Collins. "It's all about keeping a positive attitude, even when it's cold and I don't like the cold (laughs), but I just stay on the positives."
SLO Transplant Takes Down WSL Debut
Local wildcard Gina Andrews represented brilliantly for her hometown with a Round 2 Heat 2 victory in her WSL debut. The schoolteacher put on a forehand display and helped eliminate both top-seeded surfers Brooke Young and Brooke Daigneault. But, the 26-year-old is just along for the ride.
"It's a dream come true and I'm so thankful for Andy, he's the one who called me for the wildcard," said Andrews. "There's a lot of good competition out there but it's all fun for me since I'm pretty career-oriented as a teacher so I find the balance between teaching and surfing."
Event organizers will reconvene at 7:30am PST to determine a possible 8:00am PST start for either men's Round 5 or women's Round 3.