Pismo Beach continues to provide solid conditions and another dream day unfolded for the SLO CAL Open at Pismo Beach to determine finals day draws. More impeccable airs from the men's elite contenders in attendance continued as they powered through Round 5 and Quarterfinal bouts alongside powerful performances from the women in their respective Round 3 and Quarterfinal battles. Former event winners remain for both men and women but they will have to deal with hungry contenders - veterans and newcomers alike.
Defending Event Victor Remains Flawless
Defending women's event winner Kirra Pinkerton could not be stopped once more as she turned in two more brilliant performances heading into back-to-back Pismo Beach finals days. The 17-year-old started with a Round 3 best 16.00 heat total but then faced an in-form Makena Burke who put Pinkerton to the test, something the San Clemente, California, competitor answered strongly to - posting a day's best 8.83 an 16.40 Quarterfinal heat total. (Interview in video)
Young Contenders Emerge
A few upsets were scattered amid the women's draw with Ella McCaffray leading the charge and helping eliminate 2018 event runner-up, and 2019 breakout talent, Samantha Sibley in Round 5. The 15-year-old then went to take down QS veteran and Top 30 competitor Tia Blanco in a stout Quarterfinal match to earn her way back into her second QS finals day after finishing runner-up at the Outer Banks Pro last September.
"I'm really stoked just because Sam (Sibley), Tia (Blanco), Sawyer (Lindblad) and Savanna (Stone) all rip so I'm excited with how I'm doing today," said McCaffray. "I'm excited for finals day and I'll just warm up in the morning and see how it goes. Hopefully the right by the pier is working tomorrow since I really like that wave but I'll just take it one heat at a time and give it my all."
This marks Sawyer Lindblad's first QS finals day and the 14-year-old powered her way straight into finals day with signature backhand attacks that earned her No. 2 on the 2018 Pro Junior ranks. The San Clemente native was welcomed back to the beach by her brother Taj, making his way to a solid Round 5 finish, and parents as she feels right at home in the chilly waters of Pismo.
""I'm really stoked just because Sam (Sibley), Tia (Blanco), Sawyer (Lindblad) and Savanna (Stone) all rip so I'm excited with how I'm doing today," said McCaffray. "I'm excited for finals day and I'll just warm up in the morning and see how it goes. Hopefully the right by the pier is working tomorrow since I really like that wave but I'll just take it one heat at a time and give it my all."
Former Regional Champ Survives Quarterfinal Scare
Meah Collins nearly fell to the early surge from Shelby Detmers in their Quarterfinal bout but the 2016 North America Regional QS Champ found her form and turned in a big finish to ensure a place in finals day. One of the QS's top performers each year, Collins looks to earn her first-ever WSL victory and showed she has the grit when things aren't going her way.
"It's never fun chasing scores and my nerves were off the charts the whole heat," said Collins. "But I realized that patience would be my virtue and wasting priority on another 2.83 wouldn't get anywhere. Luckily I got that 5.5 to start chipping away and after that I knew I had it but just had to be patient. I'm super happy to start 2020 with a good run so far and I really want to do some damage this year. Kicking it off with a good start is the perfect confidence builder for me."
Hometown Hopes Remain
Pismo Beach's own Braden Jones represented brilliantly for his hometown crowd who was in force on the beach. The 20-year-old overcame one of Round 5's top performers Jacob Szekely in a dual that Jones took control of midway through the heat and never turned back. Jones earned a Round 4 result at this event in 2018 that helped push toward a career best Semifinal finish in Huntington Beach months later and now has a chance to breakthrough to his first-ever Final on home soil. (Interview in video above)
Brett Simpson Embodies His Idol's "Mamba Mentality"
The former Championship Tour (CT) competitor returned to dominant form in his Round 5 battle that featured 2016 North America QS Regional Champ Kilian Garland along with event threats Jeremy Carter and Jabe Swierkocki. Simpson embodied his long-time idol Kobe Bryant's "Mamba Mentality" and posted a near-perfect 9.27 (out of a possible 10) and 17.34 (out of a possible 20) heat total. The veteran then took on a familiar foe Jackson Butler who nearly got the better of Simpson, but the inner-competitor and Team USA coach mindset kicked in and delivered one last blow.
"Jackson (Butler) got that big turn toward the end and I'd be setting a bad example for my kids if I didn't go sit on him just being a coach," said Simpson. "I made my way over there and the next wave that came through I didn't plan on catching it but he's so explosive and had to keep him off the first one. Then I just hoped the next two were closeouts."
Former Event Winner, Finalist Continue to Impress
Inaugural Pismo Beach winner Cory Arrambidehas been a silent assassin at this year's proceedings, picking off heat wins since his Round 3 debut and using his veteran knowledge. This marked his first-ever QS win after over a decade among the ranks and staying within the Top 100 multiple times, but now looks to notch another win to his impressive resume.
"It's good to just get back there instead of a longer break between heats," said Arrambide. "I'm actually staying just right here so I can watch it while I'm good food and coffee which is great. All the guys that are still in this thing are really good and the last few heats have been really fun to watch so it's going to be exciting and I'm looking forward to it."
Event organizers will convene at 7:30am PST to determine an 8:00am start to finals day action.
The event is proudly sponsored by Visit SLO CAL, Dignity Health, Jeep, 805 Beer, Surfers of Tomorrow, Mid-State Containers, Vespera On Ocean Marriott Hotel, City of Pismo Beach, Peak WifI, Natural Healing Center, Cool Cat Cafe, Hubbell Real Estate Group, Mechanics Bank, Pack Design Group, Sunrun Solar, Aqua Systems, Splash Cafe, Moshpit Digital, Sunshine & Reign Photography, Surfing For Hope, Catch Some Air, Whalebird Kombucha, Ahem Rental, and Sex Wax.